Buffy Cox, the out-of-shape, passive wife of entrepreneur Neville, never recovered from the accidental death of her son. One day she simply upped and left home, and no one's seen her for over a year. Barbara Pomeroy, a planning-board arbiter 20 years younger than her nonworking husband Colin, is trying to balance home and career now that her son Toby, a kidney transplant recipient, is leading a normal boyhood. Their lives intersect when child psychiatrist Dr. Fidelis Berlin, whose specialty is stay-at-home mom vs. working-mom issues, appears before Barbara to champion Cox's plans for building a new kindergarten. While Barbara mulls her decision, Clarissa Trelawney moves nearby and begins usurping her maternal role. Also troubling: two phone calls Barbara receives threatening Toby's welfare if she doesn't decide right on the Cox project. Then Clarissa is found gashed to death with a wine bottle. Did Barbara kill Clarissa out of jealousy? Does Fidelis's assistant Sophie, now living with Neville, know more than she's letting on? Is there a deeper, edgier connection between the Pomeroy and the Cox families than a professional tie? Fidelis, who treated Buffy for depression after her own affair with Neville ended, ultimately unravels the pasts and tangled present lives of the women, the children, and the authoritarian husbands.
Mann, author of two series featuring archeological sleuths and the superb Telling Only Lies (1993), is jostling Sarah Dunant for suspense-tale honors. A tense, layered examination of wives, moms, and the women they become.