Scottoline takes another leave of absence from the law firm of Rosato & DiNunzio (Exposed, 2017, etc.) to fulfill a mother’s fondest wish and then makes her pay through the nose for it.
Maggie Ippoliti hasn’t seen or heard from her daughter since shortly after she was divorced from the girl’s father, startup wizard Florian Desroches. Feeling abandoned by the mother who fell victim to postpartum psychosis, Anna Desroches has never wanted anything to do with Maggie—until Florian, his second wife, and their two children are all killed in a plane crash, and she’s left even more alone. Phoning Maggie from her exclusive boarding school, she asks if she can come live with the mother her father had spent years turning her against. Maggie is over the moon, and her husband, pediatric allergist Noah Alderman, is scarcely less excited. Anna, on her arrival, pronounces her new home perfect and Caleb, the newfound 10-year-old stepbrother whose apraxia makes him slow of speech, adorable. But her storybook homecoming is already curdled, for the opening scene shows Noah on trial for strangling Anna to death in response to her complaints that he’s been coming on to her, the injunction she’s filed against him, and his bewildered uprooting from his own home. Cutting dexterously back and forth between the events leading up to Anna’s murder and the trial that will determine Noah’s innocence or guilt, Scottoline makes things even more complicated by presenting the major events of the trial in reverse order just because she can.
The result is a nail-biting thriller but a terrible mystery, with the third-act jitters so frequently in evidence in the author’s earlier work running amok as they spin out a series of improbable complications, a barrage of shameless cliffhangers, and a culprit ex machina before the absurdly happy ending.