By Ekta R. Garg
May 1, 2019
Release date: April 23, 2019
Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars
When a well-off woman winds up dead, the police ask her daughter-in-law pointed questions. The daughter-in-law insists on her innocence but knows the fractious relationship with her husband’s mother wasn’t exactly a secret to anyone. It may, in fact, just lead the police right back to her doorstep with an arrest warrant. Author Sally Hepworth keeps readers glued to the pages of her whip-smart new book The Mother-in-Law.
Lucy Goodwin has everything a woman could want: a husband who loves her, three adorable children, and a sweet little house. She gets the opportunity to stay at home and raise her kids, and she has a bevy of friends. The one thing she doesn’t have, that she really wants, is a better relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana, but then, all women have crossed swords with their husbands’ mothers, haven’t they?
Maybe so, the police answer when they come to the Goodwins’ door, but it still leaves a lot of speculation. Diana has died, and at first glance they think she killed herself. A little more investigation reveals that suicide is less likely. The clues at the scene don’t add up, and the police are more inclined to believe someone killed Diana. But who? And why? They don’t know, they say with pointed looks, but Lucy certainly won’t escape scrutiny.
As she helps to plan the funeral and keep track of the kids throughout the chaos of the aftermath, Lucy reflects on her relationship with Diana. When Lucy lost her own mother in her early teen years, she assumed her mother-in-law would eventually fill in the gap. Her husband, Oliver, projected such a warmth and general ease that Lucy always thought the woman who gave him birth would be exactly the same way.
Diana, however, stayed at arm’s length right from the beginning. She ran a highly successful charity to help refugee families, particularly pregnant women, but she believed in a tight-fisted approach to her own children. She avoided indulging their whims, disagreeing ardently with her husband, Tom, when the kids came asking for money for legitimate life needs. Better, she would always say, that they learned to make do.
Now all any of them can do is make do. The police keep hounding Lucy and Oliver, and they’re putting equal pressure on Oliver’s sister, Nettie, and her husband, Patrick. At a time when the four of them should be drawing closer to one another, they’re driven further apart by the investigation and a shocking revelation by Diana’s lawyer. Lucy realizes, too late, that she had always misunderstood Diana, and she’s worried what will happen if the others find out the truth about her mother-in-law.
Author Sally Hepworth keeps the tension taut from start to finish. Shying away from stereotypes and tired clichés, Hepworth builds both Diana and Lucy into three-dimensional characters. Readers may not always like Diana’s responses or the way she reacts, but they’ll sympathize enough with her to want to argue on her behalf with her children on more than one occasion.
Hepworth makes the smart decision to tell the story from both Lucy and Diana’s points of view, alternating between them every few chapters. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law both present their opinions, and, as is often the case in real life, both of them are right and wrong in many situations. The difference, of course, comes in the perspective and how much they choose to share with one another.
With enough red herrings to satisfy most mystery lovers, Hepworth keeps the answer to the central question—How did Diana actually die?—just out of reach until the right moment. The conclusion that follows keeps in pace with the rest of the story and also as an homage to Diana’s spirit. Hepworth doesn’t linger over long resolutions. She’s in and out in neat fashion, and readers will finish this fast-paced novel wishing for more.
Emphasizing the idea that all the information at hand may not necessarily constitute the entire story, Hepworth brings her readers along for a zippy ride. Once readers start they won’t want to stop, which is why I recommend they make time to BingeThe Mother-in-Law.