Desert Isle Keeper
When I first learned that Sally Hepworth’s latest novel was going to be a thriller, I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt. If you’ve been following my reviews here at AAR for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve figured out that twisty thrillers are some of my very favorite things to read, but even so, I was hesitant to pick up a copy of The Mother-In-Law. There’s something so special about Sally Hepworth’s women’s fiction titles, and it took me quite some time to wrap my head around the fact she was writing something a little different. Fortunately for me, as soon as I started reading, I was instantly hooked, and upon finishing, I can assure you that Ms. Hepworth’s thriller is as fabulous as everything else she’s written to date.
Lucy and Oliver have been married for ten years. Lucy is a stay-at-home wife and mother to their three children, while Ollie is the co-owner of a struggling recruitment firm. Their finances are a little tight these days, but it’s nothing too catastrophic, and Lucy is content with the life she’s living. It’s nothing glamorous, but that’s just fine by her.
We first meet Lucy as she’s folding laundry – and two police officers show up at her door. From the moment she sees them, Lucy knows something is terribly wrong, but she can’t imagine what it might be. Then she learns that her mother-in-law has been found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide. Lucy and Diana were never close, but Lucy is badly shaken by the news just the same. Diana was always been a strong, forceful woman, and Lucy can’t imagine her taking her own life.
It seems the police also have questions about Diana’s suicide. The presence of a suicide note as well as an empty medicine bottle all corroborate the idea that Diana was the one to end her life, but something isn’t sitting right with the detectives in charge of the case and so, they continue to ask questions. When the autopsy results reveal signs of suffocation, the investigation is handed over to the homicide squad.
Diana was the kind of woman everyone seemed to adore. She devoted her life to helping refugees lead successful lives in Australia, and the charity she ran is known and loved throughout the country. So who would want her dead? Everyone close to Diana has been keeping secrets, and as the murder investigation heats up, Lucy becomes convinced that a member of her own family is responsible for Diana’s death.
The story moves back and forth in time between the present-day murder investigation and the early days of Lucy’s marriage, painting a picture of a complex family on the verge of implosion. At first, everyone seems happy and successful, but as the story progresses, the reader learns some disturbing truths about those closest to Diana.
Lucy is our main narrator, but we’re also able to get to know Diana quite well through a series of flashbacks from her point of view. I don’t always love stories that jump around in time since it can be hard to keep the sequence of events straight in my mind, but Ms. Hepworth managed to lay things out in a way that made total sense. By allowing me to see certain events through Diana’s eyes, she enabled me to care about her as a person in her own right rather than simply as the victim of a terrible crime, and I’m not sure this would have been possible had the story been told in a more linear fashion.
In much of today’s fiction, we’re introduced to families who have everything they could ever want, but still can’t claim to be happy. The Mother-In-Law tells a similar story, but Ms. Hepworth manages to tell this familiar tale in a way that feels completely fresh. Each family member is dealing with unique challenges, some of which we don’t fully understand until closer to the end of the novel, and it is these challenges and frailties that made this book come alive for me. The characters feel like people I might actually encounter on the street, and I loved that feeling of authenticity.
The Mother-In-Law is more than just another novel of domestic suspense. It’s the portrait of a family in crisis, a group of people who don’t always have the necessary tools to deal with their problems in a healthy way. It proves that Sally Hepworth is an author capable of writing in multiple genres while still holding on to the compassion and wisdom I have come to expect from her. It’s a book I won’t soon forget, and one I’m happy to recommend to both established fans of the author as well as to those who are discovering her work for the first time.