I really enjoyed The Mother-in-Law, an engaging family drama about money and secrets and a look at how adult children deal with problems. Set in Australia, the story opens with Lucy Goodwin, a stay-at-home mom with three children and her husband, Ollie. From the beginning, Lucy has never had a close relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana, who is cold and controlling, especially when it comes to the family’s vast fortune. And Diana has made it clear that Lucy doesn’t measure up. She’s also hard on Ollie and his sister, Nettie, denying them loans that would help them in their adult lives. She frequently points to the struggling women refugees she helps with her charity, her life’s passion. In contrast, Diana’s husband, Tom is friendly and generous, and has secretly loaned Ollie and Nettie money, setting up a complicated family dynamic.
When police discover Diana Goodwin’s body, the evidence suggests that she took her own life. Her family tells detectives that Diana, newly widowed, had breast cancer. But investigators think there’s more to the story.
In alternating chapters that jump between past and present, readers learn more about Lucy and Diana and begin to understand why Diana feels so strongly about withholding money from her children. After she denies Ollie a loan, Diana tells her husband, “I think Ollie could do with being a little hungry. A little hunger is good for young people.” She reminds Tom, “It was the making of you.” Readers also learn more about how the adult children regard their future inheritances and how the family relates to each other.
Despite its 340 pages, this is the type of book you can finish quickly because of its interesting storyline and characters. I especially liked seeing how the relationship between Diana and Lucy changes, offering an insight into how seemingly opposing characters are more connected than they realize.
I was less satisfied by the tie-up at the finish and how the big reveal omitted details about the investigation and its resolution. I think this book fits better in the women’s fiction and family drama genres and is less of a thriller or mystery. A couple grammar problems (the old “between he and I” mistake) detracted from its polish, which was otherwise excellent. I would definitely read another book by Sally Hepworth.
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