One of our recommended books for 2020 is The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW

A Novel


A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

more …

A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every page in this twisty, captivating new novel from Sally Hepworth.

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  • St. Martin's Griffin
  • Paperback
  • March 2020
  • 368 Pages
  • 9781250120939

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$16.99

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About Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the author of The Mother in LawSally Hepworth is a human resource professional. A graduate of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, Sally started writing novels after the birth of her first child. Sally has lived around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the UK, and Canada, and she now writes full-time from her home in Melbourne, where she lives with her husband and three young children. She is the author of several novels, including The Family Next Door and The Mother’s Promise.

Author Website

Praise

One of:
People Magazine’s “People Pick”
PopSugar’s “30 Must-Read Books of 2019”
Bustle’s “Best Books of April”
Refinery29’s “Best Books of April 2019”
Oprah Magazine’s “15 Best Beach Reads of the Year So Far”

“A deliciously entertaining novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death. This one is perfect for fans of Big Little Lies.” Good Morning America

“Sally Hepworth writes characters you love.” —Liane Moriarty, bestselling author of Big Little Lies

“Deliciously entertaining, packed with wit and suspense, and also delivers sharp insights about family dynamics and love.” People

“A masterful depiction of how much is said in the silences…a winner for fans of Liane Moriarty and Megan Abbott.” Booklist, starred review

“A mesmerizing domestic mystery.” Kirkus

“This one will keep you guessing until the very end.” Us Weekly

“Hepworth’s short, punchy chapters keep the pages quickly turning while effortlessly deepening her characters. Readers will race to the end of this clever novel to find the truth.” Publishers Weekly

“Behold: the book that’ll make your subway ride an actual enjoyable experience! This suspenseful thriller is impossible to put down.” Cosmo

“We devoured it in just one sitting. Bet you will too!” Woman’s Day

“At last, sticky in-law tension gets the chilly thriller treatment. In Hepworth’s anticipated new page-turner, one woman’s complex relationship with her mother-in-law ends in death.” Entertainment Weekly

Discussion Questions

1. In the opening chapter of the novel, Lucy describes feeling a “little niggle” in the pit of her stomach when the police showed up – a warning of oncoming danger. Are you familiar with the feeling she’s describing? When have you felt it? How do you think this ominous tone serves to set up the rest of the book?

2. The Mother-in-Law is told in dual timelines and dual narratives – Lucy and her mother-in-law, Diana. How does this structure affect your reading experience? Did you feel more sympathetic towards one narrator or the other?

3. What was your initial impression of Diana, both through the lens of Lucy and through hearing Diana’s own voice? How did your understanding of her and her motivations evolve throughout the book?

4. Diana and Lucy have very different definitions of what makes a “good” mother-in-law. What you you think makes for a good mother-in-law? How universal do you think your opinion is, or how personal? How do you think you would react in Lucy’s position?

5. What did you think when you first learned about Diana’s Orchard House past? Did it make sense to you, or come totally out of the blue? How do you think it fits in to Diana’s character, and why she acts the way she does in the present timeline?

6. Before you learned about what happened on Thanksgiving, what did you think the “incident” was? What were the clues throughout the first half of the novel that make you think that way?

7. On page 133, Diana thinks, “When left to their own devices, bitter people can do bad things.” Do you think she’s right to asses Hakem this way? Where are the other place in the narrative where you think that this same quote applies?

8. Tom and Diana have very different philosophies about giving their children money. Is either of them correct? Or is there more of a middle ground that neither of them have considered? Do you think it’s cruel for them to let Nettie suffer when they could help pay for her treatments?

9. On page 219, Ghezala says to Lucy, “Maybe [Diana] was so busy looking at the problems in the world, she forgot to give chances to those right under her nose.” What do you think about that statement? Do you think she’s correct, or is there something more at play?

10. Before you learned the truth of Diana’s death, did you think that Lucy did it? What made you think that?

Excerpt

1

Lucy

I am folding laundry at my kitchen table when the police car pulls up.

There’s no fanfare—no sirens or flashing lights—yet that little niggle starts in the pit of my stomach, Mother Nature’s warning that all is not well. It’s getting dark out, early evening, and the neighbors’ porch lights are starting to come on. It’s dinnertime. Police don’t arrive on your doorstep at dinnertime unless something is wrong.

I glance through the archway to the living room where my slothful children are stretched across different pieces of furniture, angled toward their respective devices. Alive. Unharmed. In good health apart from, perhaps, a mild screen addiction. Seven-year-old Archie is watching a family play Wii games on the big iPad; four-year-old Harriet is watching little girls in America unwrap toys on the little iPad. Even two-year-old Edie is staring, slack-jawed, at the television. I feel some measure of comfort that my family is all under this roof. At least most of them are. Dad, I think suddenly. Oh no, please not Dad.

I look back at the police car. The headlights illuminate a light mist of rain.

At least it’s not the children, a guilty little voice in my head whispers. At least it isn’t Ollie. Ollie is on the back deck, grilling burgers. Safe. He came home from work early today, not feeling well apparently, though he doesn’t seem particularly unwell. In any case, he’s alive and I’m wholeheartedly grateful for that.

The rain has picked up a little now, turning the mist into distinct, precise raindrops. The police kill the engine, but don’t get out right away. I ball up a pair of Ollie’s socks and place them on top of his pile and then reach for another pair. I should stand up, go to the door, but my hands continue to fold on autopilot, as if by continuing to act normally the police car will cease to exist and all will be right in the world again. But it doesn’t work. Instead, a uniformed policeman emerges from the driver’s seat.

“Muuuuum!” Harriet calls. “Edie is watching the TV!”

Two weeks ago, a prominent news journalist had spoken out publicly about her “revulsion” that children under the age of three were exposed to TV, actually going so far as to call it “child abuse.” Like most Australian mothers, I’d been incensed about this and followed with the predictable diatribe of, “What would she know? She probably has a team of nannies and hasn’t looked after her children for a day in her life!” before swiftly instating the “no screens for Edie rule” which lasted until twenty minutes ago when I was on the phone with the energy company, and Edie decided to try the old “Mum, muuuum, MUUUUUM…” trick until I relented, popping on an episode of Play School and retreating to the bedroom to finish my phone call.

“It’s all right, Harriet,” I say, my eyes still on the window.

Harriet’s cross little face appears in front of me, her dark brown hair and thick fringe swishing around her face like a mop. “But you SAID…”

“Never mind what I said. A few minutes won’t hurt.”

The cop looks to be midtwenties, thirty at a push. His police hat is in his hand but he wedges it under one arm to tug at the front of his too-tight trousers. A short, rotund policewoman of a similar age gets out of the passenger side, her hat firmly on her head. They come around the car and start up the path side by side. They are definitely coming to our place. Nettie, I think suddenly. It’s about Nettie.

It’s possible. Ollie’s sister has certainly had her share of health issues lately. Or maybe it’s Patrick? Or is it something else entirely?

The fact is, part of me knows it’s not Nettie or Patrick, or Dad. It’s funny sometimes what you just know.

“Burgers are up.”

The fly screen door scrapes open and Ollie appears at the back door holding a plate of meat. The girls flock to him and he snaps his “crocodile tongs” while they jump up and down, squealing loudly enough to nearly drown out the knock at the door.

Nearly.

“Was that the door?” Ollie raises an eyebrow, curious rather than concerned. In fact, he looks animated. An unexpected guest on a weeknight! Who could it be?

Ollie is the social one of the two of us, the one that volunteers on the Parents and Friends’ committee at the kids’ school because “it’s a good way to meet people,” who hangs over the back fence to say hi to the neighbors if he hears them talking in the garden, who approaches people who look vaguely familiar and tries to figure out if they know each other. A people person. To Ollie, an unexpected knock on the door during the week signals excitement rather than doom.

But, of course, he hasn’t seen the cop car.

Edie tears down the corridor. “I get it, I get it.”

“Hold on a minute, Edie-bug,” Ollie says, looking for somewhere to put down the tray of burgers. He isn’t fast enough though because by the time he finds some counter space, Edie has already tossed open the door.

“Poleeth!” she says, awed.

This, of course, is the part where I should run after her, intercept the police at the door and apologize, but my feet are concreted to the floor. Luckily, Ollie is already jogging up behind Edie, ruffling her hair playfully.

“G’day,” he says to the cops. He glances over his shoulder back into the house, his mind caught up in the action of a few seconds ago, perhaps wondering if he remembered to turn off the gas canister or checking that he’d placed the burger plate securely on the counter. It’s the classic, unassuming behavior of someone about to get bad news. I actually feel like I am watching us all on a TV show—the handsome clueless dad, the cute toddler. The regular suburban family who are about to have their lives turned inside out … ruined forever.

“What can I do for you?” Ollie says finally, turning his attention back to the cops.

“I’m Sr. Constable Arthur,” I hear a woman say, though I can’t see her from my vantage point, “and this is Constable Perkins. Are you Oliver Goodwin?”

“I am.” Ollie smiles down at Edie, even throws her a wink. It’s enough to convince me that I’m being overly dramatic. Even if there’s bad news, it may not be that bad. It may not even be our bad news. Perhaps one of the neighbors was burgled? Police always canvased the area after something like that, didn’t they?

Suddenly I look forward to that moment in a few minutes’ time when I know that everything’s fine. I think about how Ollie and I will laugh about how paranoid I was. You won’t believe what I thought, I’ll say to him, and he’ll roll his eyes and smile. Always worrying, he’ll say. How do you ever get anything done with all that worrying?

But when I edge forward a few paces, I see that my worrying isn’t unnecessary. I see it in the somberness of the policeman’s expression, in the downward turn of the corners of his mouth.

The policewoman glances at Edie, then back at Ollie. “Is there somewhere we can talk … privately?”

The first traces of uncertainty appear on Ollie’s face. His shoulders stiffen and he stands a little bit taller. Perhaps unconsciously, he pushes Edie back from the door, behind him, shielding her from something.

“Edie-bug, would you like me to put on The Wiggles?” I say, stepping forward finally.

Edie shakes her head resolutely, her gaze not shifting from the police. Her soft round face is alight with interest; her chunky, wobbly legs are planted with improbable firmness.

“Come on, honey,” I try again, sweeping a hand over her pale gold hair. “How about an ice cream?”

This is more of a dilemma for Edie. She glances at me, watching for a long moment, assessing whether I can be trusted. Finally I shout for Archie to get out the Paddle Pops and she scampers off down the hallway.

Copyright © 2019 by Sally Hepworth