THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-In-Law is a domestic thriller with a complex character at its core: Diana, devoted wife and mother and mother-in-law to Lucy. When Diana turns up dead of an apparent suicide and the facts don’t add up (the autopsy reveals that she didn’t have breast cancer, as she had told her kids, and her suicide note is buried deep in a drawer), the question becomes, did someone kill her? Why?

Diana is an interesting woman. She’s deeply in love with her husband, and a loving mother to her children, but she refuses to use her sizable wealth to help them, even when they plead. She’s very judgmental of her daughter-in-law, and does typical mother-in-law stuff intended to undermine Lucy and withhold affection. The book is told through flashbacks after Diana’s death, as Hepworth teases out Diana’s relationships from Lucy and Diana’s perspectives, offering a view of a woman who was highly principled but also imperfect. Diana made mistakes where her family was concerned, and those mistakes created motives that conceivably could have fueled a murder by more than one suspect.

The Mother-in-Law caught my eye because of unique setup and the relationship at its heart. It is a fast read, one that I’d characterize as popcorn. It gets you hooked, but in the end, it’s pretty light. To be honest, I couldn’t even remember how it all resolved when I sat down to write this review. (I think I remember now but I am not near the book and can’t confirm.) I am not always the biggest fan of psychological thrillers, as I find them light on character development and ultimately forgettable. And while there is more emphasis on character in The Mother-In-Law than in many other thrillers, in the end, it’s a psychological thriller and a mystery, which just aren’t my favorite genres.

I’d recommend The Mother-in-Law as a beach or travel read. It’s engrossing and engaging while you’re reading it, but in the end it’s still pretty popcorn-y.


  • Laura Newton
    June 18, 2019 - 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you completely. I suggested this (or Ask Again Yes) as a group read for a family vacation next week; I thought it might be fun for all of us to read a book ahead of time and discuss it as we sit by the pool, at the beach,etc. This one was voted in as the group read, and so I began reading it last night. According to my kindle, I am now 50 % of the way complete in about four hours of reading, so popcorn read: yes.

    I am intrigued, though, by the mother-in-law herself, Diana, though I fear the genre is not going to allow for much character development there. I find Lucy, the other narrator and daughter-in-law, to be tedious at times, and her need for daughterly acceptance, while sweet, is also sad and desperate.

    Like you, I feel like when it wraps up, I will be like wait, who did it?? It will be an amusing diversion, and that is all.

    • gayle
      June 18, 2019 - 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I agree. I worry you won’t have a whole lot to discuss!!

  • June 18, 2019 - 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I found Diana to be a very interesting character. The more we learn about her, the more we understood her actions.

  • Sheila Pont
    June 20, 2019 - 6:50 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed it. I listened to it and I thought the reader was spot on. I did get frustrated by Lucy as well, and wasn’t sure if the author did a good enough job explaining some of Diana’s actions. She seemed a bit cold to me. But, a good quick light read!

  • January 3, 2020 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Although this did feel like a light read, I think it held more nuance than many of the so-called psychological thrillers that many of us have been reading recently. I kept thinking about how although at the outset this seemed like the story of a who-dunit with an evil victim whom lots of people had reason to want to dispense with, after a while it actually started to feel more like it could be *my* family — people and relationships are complicated, and their motives are often more complex and therein more justifiable than they seem. I really admired the structure by which the author would describe a confrontation from one character’s viewpoint and it would seem absolutely black-and-white as far as who was in the wrong, and then the other character involved in the same scenario would give a different perspective on what happened and it would seem far more ambiguous. I don’t think it was a fantastic book, but I think it was more rich and complex than many of its “comps.”

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