Jones draws on her nonfiction background (Birthmothers, 1993, etc.) to craft a thriller debut.
Someone is kidnapping or murdering the nannies of South Philadelphia—four in three weeks! One winter day divorced single mother Zoe Hayes sits outdoors with her adopted six-year-old daughter, Molly, who finds a severed finger with chipped red nail polish on the snowy curb. After being interviewed by Detective Nick Stiles, Zoe wails her woes to best friend Susan Cummings, an overloaded defense lawyer but pulled-together homemaker. Susan warns that her neighborhood is full of depravity, a thought echoed by Zoe’s bonkers elderly neighbor, Old Charlie. Now Claudia Rusk, the nanny for Susan’s next-door neighbor, is missing. Meanwhile, anxiety-ridden Zoe holds art therapy classes at The Institute, where she leads the deranged toward sanity through art. Jones throws suspects at us, including Coach Gene of Molly’s gymnastics class, Zoe’s ex-husband Michael, Susan’s always far-off husband Tim, leering construction workers and phobic neighbor Victor, who never leaves his house and rarely is spotted even at his windows. Zoe finds herself having an overnight with Detective Stiles, who gets along fine with Molly in the morning by making a pancake breakfast. But when Stiles won’t admit to more body parts being found, Zoe tries to dump him. A profile of the killer by fab personality and forensic psychiatrist Beverly Gardner points to the perp getting fearless, perhaps insinuating himself into the investigation, even leaving the finger Molly found pointing to Zoe’s house, as if to say her nanny, Angela, will be the next victim. The courtship and cooking scenes featuring Nick and Zoe have some zip, buddy Susan’s lawyerly acid and daughter Molly’s lively dialogue are pluses, but the tale moves into familiar and strained territory with a cross-dressing villain.