Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

Summary: From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana was properly friendly but Lucy knew that she was not what Diana envisioned. But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice. Diana was happily married to Tom, and lived in wedded bliss for decades. Lucy wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law. That was five years ago.

Now, Diana has been found dead, a suicide note near her body. Diana claims that she no longer wanted to live because of a battle with cancer. But the autopsy finds no cancer. The autopsy does find traces of poison and suffocation. Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her adult children and their spouses?

Genre: thriller, mystery
Rating: ★★★

A few months ago, I went through my tbr pile and removed any thrillers that had words like “mother,” “wife,” “daughter,” “husband” in them. I’d noticed a common trend among domestic thrillers with those keywords, and felt they were all too easy. The writing tended to lack any real substance, the plots were all the same, and they were extremely predictable. The Mother-in-Law was promptly taken off my list, and I didn’t think anything of it for a few months. When I came across it at a book sale, I grabbed it despite my internal monologue telling me not to, because it was only a dollar, and really, how bad could it be?

I have never understood the mother/daughter-in-law feuding that’s so common, both in fiction and real life. My mother-in-law is one of my favorite people, so maybe I just lucked out, but I can’t wrap my head around tense dinner conversations, being belittled for how I keep my house, or assaulting my mother-in-law, all things that happen in this book. All of the feuding between these two characters seemed so dramatic because they were both extremely petty people who clearly just needed a therapy session or five.

There’s also not really any extreme situation here that warranted their behavior toward one another, and it was like these two grasped at straws to get into fights, which was exhausting. I was expecting some psychopathic tendencies from Diana, but I was severely let down. In one scene, Lucy explicitly tells Diana the kids aren’t allowed in the pool while Diana watches them. Diana and one of the kids go in the pool, while another kid is being held by the father-in-law, Tom, who accidentally drops the child. They rush the child to the ER, and even though Tom is the one who did the damage, Lucy twists the situation and blames Diana, which leads to her assaulting Diana in the hospital. It’s such an extreme spiral that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Diana, even though the author clearly tries to paint Diana as the villain here.

The truth is that neither of these women are wonderful. Diana maintains a certain image that makes her come across as snobby and rude, but alternating chapters from her perspective show us that she does have a big heart, along with a traumatic past that explains most of her behavior throughout the book. She’s not a full-fledged monster that Lucy paints her out to be, but Lucy is too blind and naïve to see that for herself. She’s so focused on not being good enough for Diana that she loses out on any positive experiences.

Having unlikeable characters in a book isn’t always a bad thing. It generally means the plot is gripping enough to keep the reader invested, but that wasn’t the case here either. So much of the book is told in flashbacks, with only small snippets here and there focusing on the police investigation, and I felt that most of the scenes didn’t really add any depth to the characters or story. We get it, Lucy thinks Diana is mean, but we also know Lucy wouldn’t kill her own mother-in-law, because that’s too obvious. But most of the book is focused on their relationship, and when the twist comes, it’s so far out of left field that it doesn’t make any sense.

My biggest “rule” about thrillers is that you can have a killer plot twist right at the end of the book, but it needs to be plausible or it just doesn’t work. The twist is shocking in that it’s a character you wouldn’t expect, but that’s because it just does not make sense. There’s a brief red herring toward the end of the book in which Lucy and Diana finally come together to help one another, and honestly I don’t know why it was added. My only guess is that the author tried to throw everyone off before the final twist, but neither of these situations were realistic or believable and just made the ending so much worse.

One thought on “Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s