McCluskey (Intrusion, 2016), who is equally at home in Los Angeles and rural England, works a few changes on the romantic mystery in her suspenseful second novel.
Advertising executive Alison, mildly dissatisfied with her marriage and job in southern California, finds an excuse to return to her British hometown when one of her childhood best friends, the rebellious Sophie, is found dead in a hotel room, presumably the victim of an accidental drug overdose. Back home, Alison meets up with another old friend, sophisticated Liz, and, more significantly, with Sophie's older brother, Matt, now married to a chilly Frenchwoman. Alison, who had a crush on Matt throughout her adolescence, finds one excuse after another to linger in England, ignoring her husband's phone calls, and Matt appears glad to spend time with her. Drawn to investigate the suspicious circumstances of Sophie's death, Alison talks to old friends and neighbors and interviews the residents and management at a shelter for abused women where Sophie briefly stayed while she was hiding out from drug dealers to whom she owed money. While readers are likely to guess before Alison does that Matt has some secret motives behind his new adoration of his sister's friend, various other members of the Savages, the old neighborhood gang of which Sophie and Matt were the ringleaders, complicate the mystery intriguingly. A strong sense of place and McCluskey's keen grasp of the ambivalence confronting an expatriate who is tempted to return to the dubious comforts of home keep the novel from seeming simply frothy. Though mystery fans may be put off by the unlikely courtroom drama that brings the novel to a climax, and the even more unlikely moments of enlightenment Alison experiences during this drama, she's a likable character, and it's easy to understand her self-delusion.
For readers who enjoy reminiscences of childhood in the British countryside and don't object to love-addled heroines.