Monday, December 4, 2023

Book Review: The Other Mothers

By Jami Denison

What are the most dangerous places in the world? A glance through the media would imply inner cities, foreign countries, deserted parks. But readers of domestic thrillers would point to the wealthy suburbs of world-class cities. And the most dangerous people in the world are the rich mummies who populate them. 

In her terrific follow-up to her debut, Greenwich Park, Katherine Faulkner has again placed readers in a world where motherhood and money clash. The Other Mothers are women at a playgroup in a wealthy part of London. When they feel threatened, the leather gloves come off.

Freelance reporter and new mom Tash is struggling. No longer affiliated with a newspaper, sources don’t take her seriously and clients balk at paying her. Her young son, Finn, hates his new playgroup. And her husband, Tom, an NHS doctor, works nights, causing a strain in their relationship. When Tash learns of a young nanny whose mysterious death was ruled an accident, she thinks the case can help her career if she can prove the girl was murdered. But it turns out that Sophie was a nanny for one of the playgroup mothers, Claire. As Tash gets close to the women in the group, she can’t believe that any of her new friends could have hurt Sophie. In fact, the danger might be much closer to home.

The Other Mothers is a murder mystery, but it’s so much more than a who-dun-it. Told from Tash’s first-person point-of-view in the present and Sophie’s first-person POV in the past, the novel touches upon so many modern and timeless issues: The tension between mothers and nannies, between married and single mothers, between working and stay-at-home moms. The feeling of worthlessness that comes from not bringing in a regular paycheck. The stress that children put on a marriage. The struggle of keeping up with friends who have more money. The isolation of new parenthood, and the desperation to be understood. 

Faulkner does a masterful job of developing her characters. Sophie, at first, comes across as a sweet, helpful young woman who only wants to take care of Claire’s stepson while Claire negotiates a difficult pregnancy. As the book progresses, and her relationship with Claire and Claire’s husband Jez gets more complicated, Sophie seems more calculating, although her actions are always understandable. I found Tash a bit harder to understand. She’s suspicious of the women from the start, and yet she craves spending time with them, so much so that she puts herself in debt. As she gets closer to the truth about Sophie and warned away via anonymous text messages, she continues to hang out with the women. Even when Finn suffers an accident while being watched by the group, she doesn’t turn her back on them. 

Throughout the book, Faulkner leaves a juicy trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow to solve the mystery. Who is the runner that captivates Sophie at the beginning of the book? Why did Tom never tell Tash that he worked with Laura, another mother at the playgroup? Faulkner knows her readership, and the genuine clues are hard to distinguish from the red herrings.

The final reveal feels completely earned. Faulkner unmasks the killer, but keeps things open-ended and unresolved, the consequence of Tash’s actions. The only note I found unbelievable was the fecundity of a supporting character, which made the book more of a soap opera than a suspense novel. 

With her second book, Faulkner establishes herself as a writer to watch in the domestic suspense genre. Her complicated characters and novel twists make her “unputdownable.” 

Thanks to Gallery for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Also by Katherine Faulkner:

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