Scottoline mixes it up in her new novel with a two-pronged plot that incorporates the wide embrace of motherhood and a possible homicide. Pediatrician Jill Farrow is way outside her comfort zone but unable to curtail her curiosity even with the threat of bodily harm.
After an acrimonious divorce from William Skyler, Jill has moved on with daughter Megan, soon to wed fiancé Sam Becker. But when her nineteen-year-old ex-stepdaughter, Abby, appears on her doorstep one evening drunkenly sobbing that William has been murdered, Jill’s first instinct is to comfort and protect a girl she has been constrained from communicating with for three years. More worried about Abby’s emotional state than the truth of her suspicions, Jill falls headlong into the past, her lack of closure with William leaving a crack a mile wide, a trap Sam spots immediately but Jill is reluctant to admit.
Extreme family dysfunction follows Abby’s visit. Jill over-commits to the girl’s emotional demands in spite of older sister Victoria’s anger at their former stepmother’s interference. William’s scorched earth approach to the divorce left the parent-stepchild relationship in tatters, Abby grasping at any comfort to salve her pain, Victoria furious, thirteen-year-old Megan suddenly on the sidelines as her mother is co-opted by Abby’s obsession that a crime has been committed and Skyler has been murdered.
The result is a funhouse ride of dramatic confrontations, car chases and threatening situations—William’s suspicious behavior, financial legerdemain, Abby’s sudden disappearance without word to anyone, Jill’s frantic search for a girl who has previously attempted suicide and the ensuing problems between Jill and Sam—that make some sense from the perspective of extended family relationships but merges into la-la land when it comes to the who, what and why of a potential homicide.
Jill frequently runs off without a thought for personal danger, unable to tell the good guys from the bad. Like a deranged Nancy Drew, Jill rushes from police stations to “friending” William’s married girlfriend on Facebook (and a secret meeting in the park), from William’s former office to his home, all the while monitoring a very sick patient at grave risk pending a critical blood test—one the doctor seems to have lost track of in her haste to be all things to all people. Jill ping-pongs from one situation to another, putting out fires, setting others, making a circumstantial case that, indeed, William has been the victim of foul play.
For all Jill’s good intentions—and by extension Scottoline’s—the woman is the model of motherly dysfunction dressed up in concern, her behavior really untenable in a rational world. Were it not for the fact that Jill is proven right in her suspicions, the whole thing would be an unqualified mess. But then, who can gainsay an author who tidies it all together in the end, proving the bounty of motherhood and a woman’s merit in one fell swoop? The drama is big here and may appeal to a broad audience, but Scottoline too often dives into fantasyland to embellish her homage to step-parenthood. Was it ever in question?