In first-time novelist Duff’s thriller, a stay-at-home mom uses her skills as a former investigative journalist to find a story, beginning with her curt, suspicious neighbor.
Tina Thomas lost her Washington Post job five years ago after the FBI determined her attempt to stop a bomber blowing up an abortion clinic resulted in his detonating the bomb prematurely. Still suffering the occasional PTSD attack, Tina’s now living in Chicago with her husband, Carter, an editor at the Chicago Tribune, and their 2-year-old daughter, Kerry. Bored by her monthly column at a local newspaper, she’s always looking for a story that could reignite her career. She may have one with her new neighbor, who slams his door shut on her and her welcome-to-the-neighborhood cookies. A bit of research reveals that a corporation owns the house where men are unloading numerous boxes labeled “computer screens.” Tina’s investigation, taking her to a strip club (the Twenties) and dumpster diving, necessitates the inclusion of friends, from attorney Linda Misle to spinning instructor Cassandra “Cas” Olson. The neighborhood, meanwhile, is rife with other story possibilities: a standoffish Israeli doctor couple and a dentist with a predilection for Twenties dancers. Something ultimately directs Tina to a scheme that threatens the people she loves—and quite a few more. Despite the suburban setting’s potential for drollness, Duff’s novel generally takes itself seriously. Obstacles, for one, are minimal, thanks to the moms’ unquestionable prowess: Tina can bypass security systems and locked doors; Linda’s a proficient hacker; and Cas is the muscle. Likewise, the mother-daughter dynamic is endearing in its authenticity. Kerry’s toddler vernacular is cute (“Stwike out!”), repeated potty fails are less so. The narrative maintains an impressive momentum with myriad scenes of dialogue and concise chapters. At the same time, it relies heavily on coincidence, especially once plot strands and individuals start connecting. Nevertheless, the ending triumphs, realistically showing that resolving every aspect of an investigation isn’t feasible.
Ample diverting characters and story for a prospective—and welcome—return to Tina’s neighborhood.