THE WIFE: Clare is ready for a break. It’s been a tough year and now she wants to put her feet up. Arriving at the Italian villa for their summer holiday, she decides it’s high time her husband and his family did some of the work. After all, her husband owes her…
THE HUSBAND: Even though Dan had his head turned by someone else, he’s realised the error of his ways. He’s here now, and he says it’s for keeps. Clare can trust him, can’t she? At least he’ll have his brother there, to keep him in line…
THE BROTHER: Jamie is the prodigal child, back in the family fold again, after years of travelling abroad. But when he gets to the villa, he’s not alone. He’s brought a wife, someone none of them have met before.
THE SISTER-IN-LAW: Ella is everything Clare isn’t. Glamorous. Young. Influential. But she knows a secret about Clare. Something that has the power to break the whole family apart.
Clare Taylor is hoping the annual family holiday will help heal the rift in her marriage after her husband’s latest infidelity. Clare, Dan, and their three children arrive at the Italian villa on the Amalfi coast where Dan’s parents, Joy and Bob, are already settled for their last holiday pre-retirement. Joy is in a flutter awaiting the arrival of her youngest son, Jamie, who spends most of his time abroad but everyone is shocked when he arrives with his new wife in tow.
Bruised by her husband’s infidelity, Clare’s insecurities rise to the surface when she is introduced to Ella as the younger woman is glamorous and beautifully dressed. However Ella’s arrival puts an immediate strain on the family gathering as Clare is convinced there is more to Ella than meets the eye. Clare’s fears are soon realised when Ella rejects her friendly overtures and seems intent on making her life a misery by exploiting her insecurities. As Clare grows increasingly paranoid about Ella’s intentions, her new sister-in-law reveals she knows a secret about Clare that will tear the entire family apart.
Most of the story takes place in the sun-drenched villa so we don’t get much of a feel for the wider location, however this contributes to the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere that is created when the family relationships start to break down as there is nowhere for them to retreat. Sadly, none of the characters are really likeable enough to engender much sympathy and they constantly make bad decisions which doesn’t help their cause. The narrative is told from Clare’s perspective which makes it particularly unreliable and this becomes increasingly important towards the end of the book.
The narrative is mostly told in flashback and the author keeps the reader on the hook by adding the odd “if I knew then what I know now” comment. While it is a useful hint things are not quite what they seem, it also serves to make the plot a bit transparent. I’m always wary of discussing plot twists to avoid spoiling it for others but there was one significant twist which threw doubt on a certain character’s behaviour that I found a bit hard to swallow. The author is essentially asking us to reconsider Clare’s perceptions as well as our own about a certain person but I wasn’t able to do that.
While The Sister-in-Law was a good summer read, I wouldn’t necessarily class it as a tense psychological thriller because it was a bit too predictable.