My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In a nutshell: strong characterisation and good craft/writing, with a very atmospheric setting. But the novel was structurally messy, the main character has motivation and/or passivity issues, and the final reveal is incredibly convoluted.
Without wanting to give any spoilers, I feel like the author was perhaps bending and warping events to create a specific emotional state for one character (who isn’t the MC). Plot events were therefore rather unbelievable to me, in the final order of what went down. Finally, the emotional state she was going for felt melodramatic and unnecessary to me. It’s the equivalent of ripping seams out of your clothes to make them fit: the hassle and damage to the overall fabric isn’t worth the final result. Yeah the shirt fits but you look like a mess. The ending to this book looks like a mess.
Some spoilery stuff:
I feel like the novel could perhaps have themed more strongly around Libby and her relationship to her mother. It’s there, hints of it, but instead it starts out focusing on her relationship with Ben (older brother who goes down for the triple murder.) And then that peters out, or something? There was more that could have been made of the mother/daughter thing, but it didn’t really happen.
Thematically stuff was all over the place, much like the MC. Redherrings were used so frequently and routinely that I just didn’t trust any hint.
None of the characters were likeable or very relatable.
The plot happened to Libby; she was mostly passive and did as little as possible except for a few stand out scenes.
There’s something off with the pacing, the build-up to the big reveals; I struggle to identify what exactly, although I’ll think on it some more.
Edited to add: if I were beta-reading this novel, I’d absolutely be recommending that the author cut down the number of characters and streamline the plot. Instead of 4 children, have 3; Debby is the irrelevant one.
Have the hitman still turn up, as the mother requests. While he’s killing the mother, Diondra and Ben can be threatening michelle for snooping. Michelle flees from them and runs into the hitman, who can still panic and still kill her. Libby still runs off. Then Ben and Diondra are “implicated” but less out of character heinous (and less plot contortions to make Diondra so absurdly, melodramatically evil, plus more believable that Libby can forgive him in the end.)
The final result is more or less the same–Ben feeling guilty and going to jail to protect selfish Diondra, who runs off to have his child. While still being genuinely innocent, in a way that was difficult to explain at the time. Michelle and Patty still dead. Libby still surviving. But no “double murder” that night which was as absurd a set up as I’ve ever read and required SO many plot contortions to make work.