Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

by Heather Caliendo
the mother-in-law review - book club chat

Editorial note: I received a copy of The Mother-in-Law in exchange for a review.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth is an engaging thriller that features depth. 

“I’m not mad. I’m disappointed.” This is how I feel about so many thrillers. They’ll have a strong premise but the story will fall completely flat. And unfortunately, thrillers are some of the most over hyped books around, especially on #bookstagram. 

But a good thriller is like finding the absolute perfect cup of coffee—a gem that needs to be savored. Okay, maybe not that far but a well-done thriller is such a fun reading experience! 

I’ve seen lots of great reviews for The Mother-in-Law but I went in with neutral expectations as I’ve been burned many times by hyped books. But this one is really good. I would call it fantastic but I was a bit disappointed at the end. However, it doesn’t take away that a majority of the story is very well done. 

The synopsis 

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Character development

I get quite annoyed at thrillers that have people act out badly just because they can. So I very much appreciate when an author focuses on the character development of the main parties involved. When I read this was compared to Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, I side-eyed it a bit. I feel as if most books are compared to Big Little Lies are no where near that level of storytelling. Let’s get some original marketing please! But I will say, The Mother-in-Law features similar elements—a murder mystery, an in-depth look at many different characters, a great setting, etc. But this one is a bit more thriller-like than Big Little Lies

Anytime families are blended, there can be difficulties. And in Lucy’s case, she’s smitten with Oliver (Ollie) but his mother Diana is quite cold and it’s hard to pinpoint why at the beginning. Let’s just say Diana is not the dream mother-in-law situation! 

We follow the story from Lucy and Diana’s perspectives that take place both in the past and the present timeline. Each chapter seeks to peel a layer back of their facades as well as slowly solve the murder of what happened to Diana. We learn why Diana is the way she is—she can be cold and loving all at the same time. Whereas Lucy, herself, is hiding some secrets as well. I thought the dynamic between the two of them was interesting and a bit different than I read before. It’s not so cut and dried.

The ending

I keep these spoiler-free so no worries, I’m not going to give away what happens! But after such rich character development, I thought the reveal of the mystery behind Diana’s death was very weak. First, I saw it coming, which is fine, but I do like when there’s a little more suspense. But I also was disappointed that the author went in that direction. I feel there’s a couple different avenues it could have gone so again, that was a let down.

For me, endings are becoming very important. And so I struggle with the fact I didn’t like this ending. So it’s hard to decide whether this is a 3 star or 4 star read for me. If you’ve read this one, let me know what you thought about the ending! 

I really liked the author’s writing style and I thought, overall, this was an engaging story about very complicated relationships. I think the ending could have a bigger punch but can’t win them all. When it comes to thrillers, this one does sound out.

Check out my book club questions here. 

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