Parenting and child-development consultant Griffin’s debut interweaves the stories of a therapist and her client, a woman whose daughter is killed by a hit-and-run driver.
In a small Massachusetts coastal town, four-year-old Abby is struck down in the street outside her preschool. Her mother Tessa, frustrated by the sluggishness and apparent callousness of homicide detective Caulfield, embarks on her own investigation into the identity of Abby’s killer, compiling from public records a list of likely suspects among drunk-driving offenders. Meanwhile, Tessa’s grief counselor, Celia, seems to know more than she’s letting on about the horror of losing a child. Caulfield misplaces paint chips found at the accident scene, and his career ends in a corruption scandal. Tessa and husband Ethan hire an attorney to watchdog further police efforts. Celia has her own family fissures. Her new husband, history professor Alden, is intellectually and socially far removed from her ex, Harry, who works in a boatyard. Ever since a traumatic discovery made on his and Celia’s beloved sailboat, Harry has struggled with alcoholism and usually lost; his license was suspended after a second DUI conviction. Celia and Harry’s 15-year-old son Ian is a lightning rod in the culture clash between scruffy but lovable Harry and cerebral, supercilious Alden. (Celia herself finds childless Alden’s step-parenting efforts lame and halfhearted.) Almost catatonically depressed, his schoolwork suffering, Ian abruptly departs Celia’s orderly home for Harry’s chaotic one. Harry’s name is on Tessa’s suspect list, but she has no idea he is Celia’s former husband. As Tessa hones in on the circumstances surrounding Abby’s death, the suspense mounts briskly, despite awkward, at times clichéd prose. Tessa and Celia’s first-person voices, conveyed via journal entries, are indistinguishable. Worse, Celia’s journal is a less-than-skillful authorial artifice, allowing the author to withhold critical information until the book’s climax.
Griffin’s fiction-writing skills have some catching up to do with her professional expertise.