Review: The Girl Who Wasn’t There (Vincent Zandri)

Based on other reviews, I’m solidly in the minority here: this is not the sort of book I expect from someone who has won awards in their field (as the author has won the Shamus award from the ITW). I did not find the book to be particularly well-written or the story one that couldn’t be figured out abut 20% of the way in (based on markings in my Fire).


Sidney “Doc” O’Keefe has been released from prison, where he was incarcerated for ten years after being caught as the wheelman for two of his friends – friends who executed a Chinese family of four at the behest of their boss, a gangster named Rabuffo. Sidney assures the reader that he, himself, did not participate in the shooting of the family. Multiple times through the book, again and again. We get it, he’s innocent, even though I didn’t buy it the first time he told us and was even more convinced he was involved in nefarious doings the further the book rolled along. (I was right.)

Sidney and his wife Penny, along with their daughter Chloe, who is now 11, head to Lake Placid as a family rebonding thing. There they set themselves up next to another couple, the Stevens, and their daughter. Sidney and Penny decide to leave their daughter outside, paying with the daughter of total strangers, to go back to the hotel room and have some sexytime. Sidney finally admits he gave up Rabuffo to the Feds, and that’s how he was able to get his release.

First of all: who in their right mind leaves their child with complete strangers? Second, how is little vacation being paid for? The opening page says they sold their house to pay his legal bills, after which his wife and daughter moved into a one bedroom apartment, then a studio apartment. We get the answer to the former (idiots) but not really the latter.

When they go back out to the beach, their daughter is gone. The Stevens are of no help, and their daughter saw nothing. Thus we begin Sidney and Penny’s hunt for their daughter. They walk through the town, return to the hotel, where House Detective Giselle assures them they are scouring the hotel for her. Everything comes up empty.

They head to the police to file a report. The chief, Walton, makes no effort whatsoever to act like someone concerned for a missing child; instead he all but accuses Sidney of doing something terrible to her, being an ex-con and all. They head back to the hotel, and that night, hear their daughter calling for them. Sidney jumps up and sees what appears to be a man with his daughter. He heads out of the room toward them, and is promptly hit on the head. He shakes it off and goes after the man he saw, dragging him off a fence and pounding the crap out of him, trying to find out where his daughter is.

The next day, the guy he beat up is on tv telling a sob story about how he was just minding his business and Sidney just beat him up. The cops show up, and Sidney and Penny steal a jeep and head for the hills (literally). They find a vacant hunting cabin and hole up there, but naturally, the cops manage to find them in this one remote, abandoned cabin, bring a helicopter along, and start firing grenades at the cabin.

The book had, to that point, only made me shake my head from time to time. After that point, I just sighed and made myself go through the rest of it. It’s all a grand scheme, involving his lawyer, wife, the Chief of police, some weirdo named Gary (who they trust without a second thought, even though the book has already shown they shouldn’t be trusting complete strangers), one of Sidney’s friends from the massacre of the Chinese family, and the House Detective.

What they want is all the money Rabuffo has stored in a vault in his house, since Rabuffo has been fortuitously arrested by the FBI and his house is empty. For some reason, Rabuffo had keyed Sidney to the vault, via optical scan (what, none of them saw Demolition Man?) and entry code. And for some reason, the Feds and police and simply run crime scene tape around the place and then just went on their way, leaving no one at all to watch the place.

There are a bunch of deaths, by bullet and by strangulation by belt, and lost things (and people) found. Sidney lives, just like that – snap! – exonerated, and is reunited with Chloe.

It’s a short book at only 226 pages, and I really hope that the review ecopy I received is an uncorrected proof. There is apostrophe abuse, incorrect use of words that show why people should not rely on spellcheck alone (wrap for rap, for instance, right on page 3), tons of sentence fragments, and phrases that made no sense.

“I’m free, paroled for good if I keep my nose clean, as the rednecks like to say.”

I a fairly sure that keeping one’s nose clean is not just the purview of rednecks (or mothers wiping snot off a toddler’s face, for that matter).

Then there’s this, which I had to read a couple of times to understand what the heck he was saying – not to a person, just telling the reader something.

“You know, the big, black Suburban I drove to the house lived in by a Chinese family who owed my boss, Ricky Rabuffo, too much money.”

What? How about making that better, using active instead of passive voice, and using some of those commas on all the sentence fragments strewn everywhere?

It started off well: ex-con goes to the beach with his wife and daughter. Their daughter goes missing, and they need to find her. It was all downhill from there, with a too-many-people-involved conspiracy, short sequences where we have to question if Sidney is actually seeing something/having something happen to him, and lots of the author telling us things instead of showing them to us.

Two stars out of five.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Her Final Words (Brianna Lebuskes)

Lots of telling, far too little showing, and an ending that is anticlimactic.

Teenager Eliza Cook walks in to an FBI field office to confess to killing another (almost) teenaged boy. But she will only confess to Special Agent Lucy Thorne. When she lays out her confession, where to find the body, and hands over the knife used in the murder, she also makes a point to tell Lucy that a particular quote from the christian bible is carved on the boy. Then she clamps her mouth shut and refuses to say anything else.

For some reason, Lucy thinks there’s more to this story than just Eliza’s confession, and of course there is, because otherwise there would be no book. How does she arrive at this? Who knows. The Special Agent in Charge – Lucy’s boss – gives her three days to head to Knox Hollow and tease out any story that might be there. That was too bad, as it meant I’d have to keep reading this.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t really like it all that much. Lucy gets to Knox Hollow, meets Sheriff Wyatt Hicks, who has secrets, Eliza’s family, who have secrets, other members of their church (which is clearly one of those weird, cultish churches) who all have secrets, a deputy who works under Hicks, who also has secrets….you get the idea. It’s like the small town with secrets trope on steroids.

There are also a TON of characters introduced here. Cops, social workers, all the members of the church – if you’re not a fan of large casts, you might want to sit this one out.

Pretty soon, Lucy manages to find out that people – and especially kids – just vanish into thin air in this town, and another girl goes missing while she’s there.

For someone who only had three days to determine if there was something more going on in this secret-filled little town, Lucy didn’t seem to act with a whole lot of urgency. As she went around questioning people, she was often told she should speak to another party, and off she went, pinballing her way from person to person just because someone told her she should. I didn’t find her to be a deductive superstar.

The killer is given away before the ending – and it’s almost, but not quite, the author holding up a giant neon sign with an arrow pointing to the killer.

The ending was underwhelming, given that someone paying just a little attention could have seen it. The rationale behind the disappearances is semi-plausible, since people do oddball things all the time, in the name of something – in this case, in the name of some fundamentalist church. The whole thing wraps itself up with a bow, and all the loose ends are tied up.

Speaking of churches, there are some glaring errors about this cultish fundamentalist church: it’s highly unlikely they would have “Mass” and I’m almost 100% positive they would not carry rosary beads. Those things are part of the catholic rituals, and a cult, even one based on what seems to be the pentecostal flavor of christianity, is not going to have these things in their rituals.

We also don’t really get Lucy’s story: who she is, deep down, what drives her, what her backstory is. It doesn’t mean we need infodumps, but something would have helped me identify with her. As it is, she’s more like a “Hey, it’s that woman!” in a movie – a character actor whose face is familiar, but whose name you can’t recall.

The book shifts through time a *lot*, too. “Three weeks ago”, “Today”, “Two hours ago” and so on. After awhile, this annoyed me. I do not, in general, dislike timestamps on chapters, but if you’re constantly jumping around like this, you’re going to confuse the reader’s sense of time. If you do it almost constantly, then perhaps you should make it a series – even a duology, with all the events leading up to Eliza getting on a bus to go see Lucy to confess in one book, and then Lucy’s investigation in the second. It’s hard to get a real sense of what time it is, at least until Lucy reminds herself for the umpteenth time that she has to put this to bed by Monday, and it’s now (day) at (time) and well, she’d better hurry. But she doesn’t seem to be hurrying, and that’s a problem.

Overall, it’s readable. It simply didn’t grab me, which is a shame because I liked the premise.

Two stars out of five. Perhaps next time, Ms. Labuskes.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for the review copy.

Review: The Night Lawyer (Alex Churchill)

This book could not decide what it wanted to be. There are three stories here: one is Sophie Angel, barrister, who works one night a week at a local paper to review the stories they’re about to post online. The rest of the time,she works on the defense side of the legal system. The second is a mystery surrounding Sophie’s past in the USSR, and the death of her uncle Kiril: her Russian father, a musician, defected while on tour, and her English mother, with Sophie, walked to the English Embassy in Moscow and left the country that way. The third is the well worn trope of a woman who marries a man (who cheated on his wife with her) who everyone but her knows is cheating on her, but she has trouble believing it.

Any one of these things would have been interesting – in fact, it would be great if the writing duo delved into the Russian story, because I’d read that in a heartbeat.

There are probably some spoilers in this, so if you want to read this, I’d skip to the bottom.

As it stands, we get a prologue that is a bit creepy, but not really necessary, in my opinion. The actual first chapters deal with Sophie turning down the defense of a violent rapist (and I suppose we’re supposed to believe that the rapist, who has escaped prison that day has turned up at the newspaper somehow, in that prologue). The next part deals with someone buying the paper where Sophie works as the night lawyer. The wife of the buyer is Russian, and there seems to be some history between her and Sophie, although Sophie has little memory of her time in Russia. It occurred to me that since we get only a couple of scenes at the paper that this whole paper thing and the buyout of it was done just to get these two characters together.

Lydia (the Russian wife) asks Sophie to defend a young man accused of rape. His mother, and the young man, of course say he is innocent, and he may very well be. This part of the book is heavily focused on the legal system in England, and it’s heavy on jargon from that system. If you don’t know what solicitors and barristers are, or what a dock is in a courtroom, you may get a little lost, but it’s still readable. Clearly, one (or both) of the writers has a great interest in the legal system and how it is (as in the US) heavily skewed against poor people.

Throughout the book, we get glimpses of her life with Theo, her husband. He’s always “working”, and when Sophie enters the dressing room to change into robes for court, other women look at her with pity. This reader spotted Theo as a cheat right off – after all, if someone cheats on their partner to be with you, they will most certainnly cheat on you to be with someone else. Sophie, though, waves it all away, even after finding a lipstick in Theo’s car on the floorboard. Of course he has an easy excuse for it, as he does every time she is passively questioning him about it. Ultimately, and thankfully, she finally gets a clue and kicks him to the curb – she leaves.

But, since she’s broke, and because she thinks this dude somehow means it when he says they should try again, she moves back into the house. She thinks she hears an argument, but is sleepy and ignores it. Then she wakes up, tells Theo there’s someone in the house, but of course he does not get up. She goes downstairs and the escaped, violent rapist is there to take her away. The fight scene there is pretty good, and it’s nice that she offs the bad guy – no thanks to Theo, who hid in the bathroom and dialed 999 (the British version of 911).

Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, but leaves Theo again anyway (hooray!). Lydia (remember her? The Russian wife of the buyer f the paper?) tells Sophie to come with her to Russia to look into the disappearance of her uncle Kiril. She does, and then, mystery solved by her memory of the time being teased out, she returns to London and decides she’s home. Presumably, she goes about her business from that moment forward.

The writing is fine, and the descriptions of he British legal system are interesting. There’s a lot of editorializing by the authors via Sophie about it. It’s an okay book – not great, but not unreadable.

I’d have liked it better had there been one story picked of these versus cramming three into it. Alas, that was not the case, and alas, this one didn’t do it for me. Your mileage may vary.

Two stars of five. Thanks to NetGalley and RedDoor Press for the reading copy.

Review: The Idea of the Brain (Matthew Cobb)

I picked this up because I’ve always had a fascination with the brain – how can this person understand rocket science, while this person is better at literature, and how do people view (and/or value) these rather divergent types of development through their own lenses?

If you’re after a very detailed, rather academic sort of book examining the ways people throughout history have viewed the brain, this is the book for you. It comes across as a bit dry, as many overviews of anything do, but it does not stray into the weeds to become completely unreadable. You do need to be ready and alert to read it in order to understand the transitions and shifts of thinking throughout history about the organ that allows us to think.

If you’re a citation kind of person, this is also for you: as with other academic type books of this nature, there are loads of materials one could go find and read, if one were interested in continuing to delve into neurology and the general history of how we view the rather precious blob that sits inside our skulls.

Four stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Perseus/Basic Books for the reading copy.

Review: Blind Vigil – Rick Cahill #6 (Matt Coyle)

This is more like it!

The last (and only) Rick Cahill book I read was Lost Tomorrows, and I found him to be a bit of an Eeyore, constantly mired in guilt about his wife’s death.


He also got shot in the face and that was a helluva way to end things.

He survived, and it’s now nine months later. Cahill is blind – with the chance that his eyesight may or may not return – and his girlfriend Leah (you may remember her as the sister of his former partner at the Santa Barbara PD) is splitting time between Santa Barbara and Cahill’s place in San Diego.

Moira – a San Diego-based PI – gets in touch with Cahill and wants him to come with her on a job. What job? Turk Muldoon, and old friend of Cahill’s, has hired her to spy on his girlfriend Shay, whom he thinks is seeing someone else. Cahill points out he can’t see anything, but Moira is more interested in his ears, and if he can tell what Turk is feeling and how apt he would be to snap and kill Shay if she was seeing someone else. Moira had given news of a wife’s infidelity previously to a doctor (her own son’s pediatrician, no less) who proceeded to off his wife, child, and then himself. She’d rather that not be the case here, and Cahill assures her Turk would never do something like that.

Shay, of course, is then found dead, and all indications are it’s Turk who killed her after an argument overheard by neighbors. Moira rails at Cahill, that he was wrong and now they’ve gotten Shay killed, but Cahill disagrees. Moira exits the case, but Cahilll wants to help his pal any way he can, even if he still can’t see.

Turk is arrested for murder, but Cahill has found information that tells him Idaho is where he needs to go. He ropes Moira back in, and they’re off, to talk to one recalcitrant cowboy but then to a more garrulous one. From there, it’s off to a PI who was trying to track down Shay’s father, who disappeared with over $800K dollars from the sale of the family ranch, leaving Shay and her mother with nothing. Her father was identified as the decedent in an auto wreck in Mexico, under his own name – this after the PI tells them Shay’s father used various aliases.

While all of this is going on, Rick keeps smelling the same man, repeatedly – following him and Moira, following just Cahill. But Moira never sees him, and Cahill dubs him the Invisible Man.

With that information, they head back to San Diego, to figure out a way to find Shay’s maybe/maybe-not dead father and a ranch hand who worked on the ranch prior to its sale. By now, we are all fairly sure Shay found her dad, and that he likely had something to do with her death. I will reiterate for whatever nth time it is that I still don’t like characters going to the bad guy, alone, without telling anyone.

I won’t go into details about the end except to say that “blind vigil” certainly is in play the last 20% of the book

Four and a half stars, dinged for character stupidity. I’m feeling generous, though, and I did like the story quite a lot, so I’m rounding up this time: five stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Oceanview for the reading copy.

Release date: 01 Dec 2020.

Review: Line of Sight (James Queally)

Line of Sight open with Russ Avery – former reporter, now PI – helping a dirty cop clean up a mess he’s made. So we know, at least, that Avery can cross a moral line.

Avery is subsequently offered a job by Key, a Black activist and friend, to look into the death of Kevin Mathis. Mathis’ death was determined to be just another drug-related shooting in a town that never lacks them. The twist on this is that Mathis was in possession of a video that appears to show a police officer shooting a friend of his. Mathis’ father, Austin, is convinced his son was also killed by a cop.

Avery, knowing that the release of that video would blow up, requests that they give him a little time to start asking around, and not release the video. The problem for Avery: if he starts asking questions about an officer-involved shooting, his steady stream of “fixing” for cops is going to dry up fairly quickly.

He goes on anyway, his reporter brain fully engaged. Along the way we meet retired cops, active cops, and – thankfully – the really dirty cop who appears in the video. I say thankfully, because sometimes, in books like this, the bad guy doesn’t show up until a few pages from the end of the book, and it’s impossible to even make an in informed guess of whodunnit.

There’s a decent amount of action, and there are protests not unlike current event here in the US as I type this, which bring to mind the Black Live Matter protests, when Key and Mathis’ father release the video to the press. Russ manages to get himself beat up, arrested, and given a very stern talking to by his ex-girlfriend, who is still employed at the paper from which he was fired.

Overall, I’m giving it four out of five stars. The opening is a little slow, but once things get moving, we are along for the ride as Avery pokes his nose into places the people in charge don’t want him to go.

Thanks to NetGalley and Polis Books for the reading copy.

Review: Shadows of the Dead (Spencer Kope)

Magnus “Steps” Craig and his partner Jimmy are part of the FBI’s Special tracking Unit, called upon to assist in tracking everything from bank robbers to, in this case, the driver of a crashed car who had a woman in the trunk. The opening is a tense standoff between the driver the FBI and local authorities have pursued, and that drive, holed up in a cabin deep in the forest.


Unfortunately, that promise is blunted by tedious, unnecessary tangents, and a special ability that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Steps, pronounced dead at the age of eight of hypothermia, but brought back to life, returns from that experience with the ability to see people as colors and textures – this, to me, would be a form of synesthesia, based on grapheme-color synesthesia, but in this book, Steps is told by his father that he has the shine. To me, someone described as having the shine is someone who can see events past and future, and/or talk to other people just using their mind. Neither of those are present in this book, which is the third in a series, although I suppose typing shine is easier than typing synesthesia over and over. This condition is for some reason kept a secret from everyone except Jimmy and their mutual boss, including his own mother, who is never told. In the world of this book, it makes Steps the best tracker in the country. I have some questions about this, which I’ll get into.

Back to the beginning. The authorities have the fleeing driver surrounded in the cabin. Right before someone’s going to launch a tear gas canister into the cabin, we get….a flashback. We get the tale of how Steps died and came back with synesthesia, how he and his father kept it a secret from his mother, how lead crystal glasses help him keep the blinding neon glow of humanity from burning out his eyeballs and giving him migraines. We then get back to the action at the cabin. This was a very weird editorial choice, and it immediately rips the reader out of the action.

They capture the driver, who rattles on about the woman being number Eight, how he was going to “fix” her, and we discover there’s someone out there actually taking the women and holding them before turning them over to the crazy guy so he can experiment on them.

Things shift into trying to find the Onion King, as he’s called. Why is he called that? Is this really number eight? If so, who are the first seven? And where are they – or more accurately, whree are their bodies?

Throughout this, we get a lot of metaphysical discussions – good versus evil, the story of the two wolves – and a lot of references to books Steps has read, movies he and Jimmy watch, and I have to say that all of that really reduces the energy of the investigation, not to mention yanking the reader right out of the story. Nothing seems urgent here, despite the fact they’re hunting for a serial killer, until the last 10% of the book.

Another irritant was that everyone in the book – except, again, the IT person in charge of the systems someone breached – had some kind of witty banter moment, or more than one moment, and some of it wasn’t funny. That sort of thing is supposed to be used sparingly, and it really did seem as if some scenes were there merely to pad the book. Ditto for the main character’s constant meandering off into the weeds about everything from Archimedes to Zeno.

All of the IT people are genius hackers, trawling the dark web as easily as looking up something in a database – except the IT crew that manages the courthouse servers, where crazy man’s bail was reduced from $10MM to $2K, and apparently no one notices this.

A note here about the “shine”: if Steps can see people through their color, and he has never met the missing women, I kept wondering just how he knew each woman’s color. He couldn’t get this from the women themselves, and as they make their way to the homes of each woman, he immediately says “She was here, this is X” based on…just seeing a track of color where the woman has walked. How would he know? What if they had a roommate? Lived with family? A bunch of ifs ran through my mind during some of these scenes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it, either. Thirty minutes after finishing, I couldn’t remember the title of the book, and errantly searched for “Death in the Shadows”, which is not the name, of course. There are two books previous to this, and based on the epilogue, a fourth is upcoming. I’m afraid I’m not invested enough in Steps and Jimmy to read what came before or what comes after.

Three point five stars, rounded down to three because of the issue noted. Sorry folks, this just wasn’t for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Mintaur for the advance copy.

Comanche – Brett Riley – review

There are going to be spoilers galore here, so if you want to read this book without any knowledge beyond the blurb, you should stop reading this review now.

The legend of the Piney Woods Kid is this: he was a murdering bastard, and a posse caught up with him, making him dead. That was back in the 1800s. Fast forward to modern times, and someone/something is killing off descendants of that posse, and witnesses say it was a gray-looking man dressed in Old West garb who did it.

Enter Raymond Taylor, who recently lost his wife and decided alcohol was the way to go to blunt that pain, and his partner, Darrell LeBlanc, of New Orleans, called in by Raymond’s sister, who lives in Comanche with her husband, the mayor. They want to know what’s going on in this small town, and they want whoever is responsible brought to justice. Sounds kind of like a posse to me.

Turner and LeBlanc arrive in Comanche with their medium sidekick – and by medium, I mean the crystal ball-toting kind – and a professor from LSU.

This isn’t a mystery that’s a intricate puzzler. We know immediately who is killing the folks in Comanche, and the motive is very straightforward: revenge. That it’s a ghost as the murderer is fine – someone has to be the bad guy, so why not the original bad guy?

The story overall was just ok. There was a lot of wasted potential here, and I found the story itself repetitious and a bit cringey as I went through it. There’s a lot of male posturing/alpha nonsense again and again, like frat dudes at a kegger telling their pals to hold them back so they don’t kick the shit out of another dude. There are also not that many sightings of the ghost, which is a little odd since it’s at least tangentially a ghost story, and if the Piney Woods Kid is pissed off, his ghost wandering the town where he was killed would have been something I’d have liked to see.

I found the pacing tedious, and the try/fail, try/fail repetition annoyed me. Parts of the book went on longer than they could have, and reading those parts, I don’t understand why they weren’t chopped down.

One big annoyance is the complete lack of quotation marks to denote dialogue. This made the action scenes in particular very difficult to follow, because they also shifted viewpoints. If a reader – or, specifically, THIS reader – has to backtrack at times during these sequences to figure out who the hell is saying what, you’re going to have an annoyed reader, or one who just stops reading the book and gives it a DNF. I did finish it, but I imagine others will not. As the author is a professor of English at the college level, he knows there is a reason certain standards exist – quotations and punctuation, as well as no head-hopping in scenes among them – and that to stray from these things means the writing must be superior. Alas, I did  not find it to be so.

On the whole, it looks like this may have started as a short story or novella years ago, was trunked, then was brought out and used as the basis for a novel without rewriting the original material. That can be good, sometimes. This was not one of them.  Although the last 50 pages or so finally have some action, the ending was a letdown and one we’ve seen any number of times in 80’s horror flicks with magical talismans or cursed toys/books/whatever.

Two stars out of five – one for writing it in the first place (my default), and one for an intriguing, but not well executed, idea.

Thanks to NetGalley and Imbrifex for the reading copy.

Answer in the Negative – Henrietta Hamilton – review

Johnny and Sally Heldar are the investigative couple in this, one of four novels featuring them, from Henrietta Hamilton. All four books were written in the 50s and this one, at least, has been reprinted by Agora as part of their Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

The action in this book revolves around work in the National Press Archives after World War II. Frank Morningside, an assistant archivist, has been receiving poison pen letters and someone is also pulling pranks on him. His boss Toby calls on amateur sleuths Johnny and Sally to look into it. Posing as researchers, they snoop around a bit. Once Morningside gets his head bashed in – by a box of glass negatives -Scotland Yard is called in. Chief Detective-Inspector Lindsay is nominally in charge of the case, but we know that Sally and Johnny will solve it. The list of possible suspects is not terribly long, but they are amusingly drawn, and each is worthy of at least a look by the duo.

The perpetrator was not a surprise to me (according to the ebook, I figured the thing out at 49%), but finishing the book brought me back to my very young days when Agatha Christie was the only real mystery writer I knew.

Those with modern sensibilities may be aghast at how much smoking there is (or, for younger readers in the aughts, why they’re allowed to smoke inside) or just how slow the book feels. Keep in mind that this was written in the 1950s, and people didn’t have the equivalent of a supercomputer in their hand all day long. There’s something to be said for people intelligently discussing something without being able to bounce on to wikipedia when there’s a question.

Overall: three stars, as I felt things could have been tightened up a bit.

Thanks to NetGalley and Agora for the reading copy.

Little Disasters – Sarah Vaughan – review

Note before starting: when I first saw this, it was being billed as a psychological thriller. It doesn’t fall into that category at all. This is more of a non-genre drama with a hint of mystery thrown in.

Liz is a pediatrician working in the ED (that’s the ER, for US readers) when her friend Jess arrives with her 10-month old, who she says has been vomiting. After tests are run, it’s clear the child has a skull injury. Liz has some reservations about the story Jess is telling, and Jess is acting suspiciously. Something doesn’t add up, but Liz rightfully recuses herself from further examination and treatment.

What follows is a story told both in the present and the past, revolving around four women who took a childbirth class at the same time. Liz and Jess are the primary focus, and what we mostly see are glimpses into the lives of the career working woman Liz, and the stay at home, but clearly suffering from postpartum depression, Jess.

As the story winds on, and the authorities and Liz try to puzzle out what really happened, and whether Jess (or Ed, her husband) beat the child or whether it could be just a serious accident, Liz maintains Jess would never hurt her child, but others are not quite so sure.

The ending is one I found completely unexpected but also completely unrealistic, and quite frankly, I felt cheated by it. I’m just not a fan of a bad guy who shows up completely out of nowhere, either because they’ve not been introduced or because they have been introduced, but their actions in the narrative never hint at their actions in the end.

More forgiving readers than I will not mind this. As for me, it takes my rating to 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria for the reading copy.