Laurence Fitzsimons has a mother who’s determined to control everything, and everyone, around her—even if she has to kill to do it.
When 22-year-old Annie Doyle is murdered, it’s ugly and sudden. Her life ends in 1980 on a Dublin beach at the hands of Lydia and Andrew Fitzsimons, for reasons not immediately made clear. Lydia doesn’t feel at all bad about the deed: “I like to think I did the girl a kindness, like putting an injured bird out of its misery. She did not deserve such kindness.” Lydia is disillusioned with Andrew after more than 21 years of marriage, and although they live in a lovely estate called Avalon, they are nearly penniless because of Andrew’s bad investments. All Lydia really cares about is her 17-year-old son, Laurence, whose every move she attempts to control. Laurence is overweight and bullied at school, but he’s also observant and not at all stupid. His parents are acting squirrelly, and he soon suspects one or both of them had a hand in Annie’s death. Meanwhile, Annie’s sister, Karen, is convinced something bad has happened to Annie, who has always been troubled: At 16 she became pregnant, was sent to a home for unwed mothers, and was forced to give up her baby girl, Marnie. It left her forever changed. Karen begins investigating on her own, eventually becoming intimately tied to the Fitzsimons. Like Unraveling Oliver (2017), this is a whydunit, not a whodunit, and the real meat lies in Nugent’s exploration of motherhood, mental illness, and what could drive a person to murder, told through first-person accounts from Lydia, Karen, and Laurence. Lydia is a Gothic villain for the ages, and Annie is sympathetically drawn; a letter she wrote to Marnie, riddled with misspellings, is heartbreaking. Society failed Annie, and her victimization never ended, even after her death.
A page-turner chock full of lies and betrayals and a very creepy mother-son relationship.