Picking up a debut novel is always an exciting gamble. Readers are hoping to discover their next favorite author at the inception of their career or a book they can confidently recommend to all their friends. When that happens, it is almost like magic. Based on responses to Mother-Daughter Murder Night by Nina Simon, that is exactly the experience many are having when picking up this unforgettable debut novel.
When Lana Rubicon is diagnosed with brain cancer, she could easily have given up hope, but instead this strong-willed woman prepared herself for the biggest battle of her life. But working in the high-powered arena of real estate, Lana is used to having to prove herself again and again. What she is not used to doing is uprooting her life to go reside in a “ramshackled” home with her daughter, Beth. Fortunately, beloved grand-daughter Jack lives there as well and can hopefully mitigate the family drama between these two headstrong women.
Unable to sleep one night, Lana witnesses a strange shadow out on the marshy waters surrounding her daughter’s home. Elkhorn Slough was the last place she wanted to be trapped, but the next day, when Jack’s kayak expedition group stumbles upon a body lying on the muddy shores, Lana begins to suspect something is not right in this quiet community.
Needing a new purpose to get up every day, Lana recruits her willing grand-daughter and less-than-enthusiastic daughter to help her investigate this suspicious death. When a second death occurs unexpectedly, this multi-generational investigative unit jumps into high gear—which each using their own unique skills to uncover buried facts, twisted truths, and greedy vendettas.
The crimes in Mother-Daughter Murder Night are well plotted and the impeccable unfolding of this amateur investigation is to be lauded, but Nina Simon’s ace-in-the-hole is her ability to skillfully depict complex familial dynamics in an authentic and compassionate manner. The bond between these three women is never questioned and yet—just as in real life—there are challenges at every turn in their relationships. They harbor past histories together, they are currently dealing with several high-stress situations, each has their own dreams and aspirations, and placed on top of all that is fear—fear of mortality, fear of disappointment, and fear of failure. And that’s before they even acknowledge that there could be a killer in their midst.
Nothing about Mother-Daughter Murder Night feels like a debut. Nina Simon’s assured hand guides readers along this journey with the skill of a veteran storyteller. The vibrant setting—most especially the natural surroundings of the area—is brought to life with such clarity that readers will be forgiven for swatting away at imaginary gnats. Various environmental and conservationist elements are woven into the plot without getting heavy-handed or preachy. But in the end, it is the Rubicon women who serve as the core of this story. It is their relationship that readers will remember the most once the covers are closed. Nina Simon leaves her new fans anxious to see what she will offer up with her second novel.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.