Released: April 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Ah, the age old story of daughter-in-law pitted against mother-in-law. It’s a tale as old as the institution of marriage. Well whatever you think you know about this dynamic, you’d be best to leave it all at the door when you read this intense domestic thriller.
When Lucy falls in love with Ollie, she is over the moon not just about her relationship but also about her future family. Having lost her mother at a young age, she yearns for a close relationship with her new mother-in-law, the crisp and even-tempered Diana. Diana comes across as someone with very little emotion or regard for others, including her own family, but Lucy is determined. That is until Diana is found dead of a suspicious suicide. As the secrets and lies of this seemingly picture perfect family are suddenly unwound, all of them become suspects in Diana’s shocking death.
Until recently, I hadn’t read very much fiction based in Australia. This and 55 by James Delargy (review to come soon) are my first forays into Australian thrillers. I have to say that based on these two novels, I’m pretty impressed.
I read The Mother-in-Law in only two days because I just couldn’t put it down. I even read it while standing in line at the market! Every time I thought I knew what was going on I quickly found out I was completely wrong – a rarity for me when it comes to these types of thrillers. I was kept guessing right till the startling end.
The book shifts from the points of view of most of the family, really giving us insight into everyone’s motivations. Sometimes that can get a bit tedious, especially when you don’t care about what a certain character has to say, but the plot device worked well within this story. After nearly every chapter my assumptions and feelings about the characters did an about-face as we learned more about their pasts.
Aside from the ending, the most surprising part of this for me was how strongly I started to feel about the titular character. As we learn more about Diana through flashbacks you begin to realise why Diana is the way she is and start to feel sympathy and attachment toward this outwardly standoffish woman. Despite how her actions made her seem, her intentions were usually pure. So many times I wanted to shake Diana and yell “JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, YOU’RE ACTUALLY DOING A NICE THING WHEN IT’S IN CONTEXT”
The only niggling thing about this book for me were the decisions Diana made toward the end. They were really questionable and didn’t seem to fit with her persona at all, however it would be Spoiler City to go any further into this. So I’ll just leave it for you to read and if you feel the same way I did, let me know in the comments.
By the end of The Mother-in-Law, I was utterly brokenhearted and wanted to scream in that amazing way only the best of books can make you feel. Fellow readers will understand what I mean: “This book totally destroyed me, you have to read it.”
Honestly, five stars aren’t even enough. I read The Mother-in-Law a few months ago when I was sent an ARC from the publisher, but I still often find myself thinking about this book. It wasn’t just a suspense novel, it was an emotional one too that did a deep dive into the complexities of blended families.
I think Sally Hepworth captured it best when writing about why mothers and daughters-in-law have tougher relationships than their male counterparts:
“Sons-in-law and fathers-in-law don’t care enough to have issues.”
“So we have issues because we care?”
“We have issues because we care too much.”