Having read others of Sally Hepworth’s books, I have now figured out that they are relationship fiction masquerading as mystery/thriller. That doesn’t make them bad; let’s face it, dysfunctional family drama is always engaging (particularly if it reminds you of your own!). But to market them as thrillers is a little over the top, regardless of the shocking ending on this one.

Stephen Aston is a prominent doctor in his 60s, with a wife (Pamela) who is suffering from fairly advanced Alzheimer’s, and has within the past year been moved into a care facility. Early in that same year, Stephen and Pamela had hired Heather (an interior designer) to re-imagine their home, but in light of the fact that Pam will now never enjoy it, the plans were changed midstream, and Heather has instead fitted the house out to Stephen’s specifications. In the process of working together, the two fell into a relationship (are they in love? hm), and have decided to marry—once Stephen divorces his wife.

The book opens on the events of that wedding, which promise some major drama—but we quickly cut away to flash back to the recent past.

The main opening scene is a luncheon at which Stephen announces his intentions to his two daughters, Tully and Rachel, who are both of them older than his new fiancée. Needless to say, neither is thrilled by the prospect of having a stepmother their own age, not to mention having this happen while their mom is still alive. At first, the story is focused on the daughters’ speculations about why this woman even wants to marry their dad, who is 30 years older than she is—his money? his social position? but then things take a turn as we learn about the personal issues Tully and Rachel are already dealing with in their own lives, and the picture expands to include all that extra angst.

Some characters were carefully developed—I thought the daughters and their issues were both unique and fascinating—while the author’s revelations about other people were more circumspect, which worked in some instances and not at all in others. (Fiona! don’t be a stranger!) The secrets were interesting, the hints of bigger doings along the way kept me reading, and the reveals and the ending…well, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

But…to call this a thriller seems a little over the top.

I have so far read five books by Sally Hepworth, and my reactions have been mixed. I loved one (The Good Sister), disliked one (The Mother-in-Law), and was a fan (with some reserves) of the other three (this being one). But just to be clear, regardless of how breathless you become at the revelation of the secrets, my contention is that these are relationship fiction, not thrillers or suspense; they just don’t meet the criteria. So read and enjoy them for what they are (except for The Mother-in-Law, which I thought was fairly dreadful, although I am in the minority), but don’t expect them to be more.

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