With The Mother Next Door, a novel of suburban suspense, Tara Laskowski has gifted readers with the most addictively readable book of the season. It is virtually impossible to stop reading The Mother Next Door until the entirety of it has been consumed, and even then, its themes will linger in the reader’s mind for days afterward.
In her debut crime novel, One Night Gone, Laskowski used her deep understanding of the psychology of women to tell a gripping tale set during the off-season of a typical beach community. For The Mother Next Door, she turns her attention to a coveted cul-de-sac community in the outskirts of Washington, DC, but the astute contemplation of women’s minds remains.
Theresa Pressley has just moved to the neighborhood known as Ivy Woods with her husband – the new Principal at the local school – and her teenage daughter, Lily. Having once lived near the area while attending college, Theresa always dreamed of owning a home in this popular enclave – though maybe never truly believed it might happen. Sometimes dreams do come true. But dreams can turn to nightmares.
Kendra McCaul is the unofficial head of the “Ivy Five,” a group of women from the neighborhood – most of them mothers – who welcome Theresa to the neighborhood with open arms. In fact, given that the “Ivy Five” is now really only four, there is a spot among their clique if Theresa wants – and can earn – it. Laskowski brings each of the women within this group to life with telling details, unique personalities, and realistic foibles.
The bulk of The Mother Next Door takes place across the seven weeks leading up to Ivy Woods’ premiere social event of the year, their Halloween spectacular. Tara Laskowski employs narrative chapters from both the perspectives of Theresa and Kendra to unspool the many complicated secrets hiding within this community. Theresa is navigating her way through the tangled “Ivy Five” relationships as that group is trying to suss out her worthiness to join. And meanwhile, everyone is trying to be the best mother possible for their beloved offspring.
It cannot be overstated how well Tara Laskowski understands – and is able to convey – the myriad of thoughts going through these women’s minds. Readers will feel as though they are watching a championship chess game play out before their eyes, with the victor entirely uncertain and maybe the “prize” unwanted. It is a strange, albeit accurate, dichotomy when you position competition beside companionship. These are traits that are by nature in conflict – which makes them perfect as the underlying structure of a crime novel.
As with One Night Gone, some plot elements in The Mother Next Door tie back to the past. Laskowski finds clever ways to impart that knowledge without needing to devote a large page count to history. This helps to achieve the desired goal of keeping the reader invested in the action leading up to the fabled Halloween party, while also being mindful of how our past decisions and deeds have a ripple-down effect.
Readers will race to the end to find out how all the threads are linked, but Tara Laskowski has some late-game complications to make that journey a bumpy one for her characters. This is an author who knows how to make her readers care about the outcome and succeeds in satisfying. Wherever Tara Laskowski travels next, her fans will be happy to take up residence.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.