Bullying, and shining a spotlight thereon, is heralded as the reason this novel was written, but it plays such a minor role in the story that one wonders why it is even raised, except perhaps for the widespread publicity attendant to the subject. It does occupy, along with much extraneous and superfluous background, about the first half of the book. It is not until this reader got past that point that a modicum of interest arose.
The plot is a mishmash of twisted lines. It begins with a fire in a newly opened elementary school, in which three persons are killed and two young children injured, one of whom is the young victim of the bullying, the eight-year-old daughter of Rose McKenna. Rose, serving as a lunch mom, saves two girls (one of them the bully), ushering them toward an exit, and returns through the fire to save her daughter, who is locked in the bathroom, emerging initially as a “hero,” but then criticized when it is learned that the bully was injured in the fire (how? It seems she returned to get something she had left behind) and Rose is accused of ignoring her in favor of her own daughter.
Faced with civil and criminal charges, Rose undertakes to discover the reason for the fire (officially attributed to accidental causes) when she suspects foul play. This leads to further action, somewhat beyond belief. The novel is carefully constructed and well-written, but somehow doesn’t fulfill its purpose, since, essentially, it is a murder mystery, but so overloaded with superfluous subplot that it becomes burdensome to read. The author usually writes legal thrillers which I have found to be so much better, and I for one hope she returns to that milieu.