Jeanie and Matthew King have just got married after knowing each other for just six months. Jeanie moves out of her small house on the seafront into Matthew’s large house, complete with creepers around the windows. Is this her fairy-tale castle? After all Jeanie has now been cast in the role of stepmother to twins, Scarlett and Luke who are fourteen. But that’s OK Jeanie has her son, Frankie who has just gone off to college so she knows all about teenagers.
This book has a terrific structure told as it is from Jeanie’s point of view but with interjections from her younger sister Marlena, comments that give a picture of what was going on with a good dollop of hindsight. Jeanie and Marlena had a tough start in life but they’ve both made it. Marlena is a journalist and Jeanie a teacher and now Jeanie has Matthew, a big house which contains a room with a locked door and a garden with a large patch of animal graves, oh and Mathew’s first wife, Kaye is glamorous and difficult.
The Stepmother takes the fairy tale of Snow White and retells it for the modern age. The young beautiful and somewhat stroppy Scarlett is Snow White who resents her stepmother Jeanie. As her mother Kaye is still alive at least the two get to have a break from each other but with Matthew working hard, remember he is only a King in name, he is stressed and quickly morphs from the laid-back version he presented in their courtship to a more difficult version who is rarely home and when there he is working or taking Scarlett and Luke out on trips to make it up to them. Jeanie is trying to get a new job, without one she is left in charge of the house complete with a large gilt mirror.
I often say when I read these psychological thrillers that the author has to get me hooked and then I am prepared to overlook some of the inconsistencies which are necessary to keep the book flowing. The Stepmother is no different, but I was hooked right from the beginning and once it became clear that Jeanie had a secret, I was not going to be easily parted from this book! New marriage, step-children and a harassed new husband plus dark secret; well we all know where that is going to lead!
The short chapters had me eagerly turning the pages as my view on Jeanie and Matthew were turned on their head and around half-way in I thought I had everything tied up and knew what the ‘and they all lived unhappily ever after’ was going to look like. Dear reader, I was wrong, Claire Seeber came up with something else, something which made me reassess much that I had written and assumed.
Don’t read this book if you want characters to love, Jeanie is a little bit on the soft side for my liking and although I did like Marlena’s no nonsense statements she’s not the most reliable of sisters on the planet. Matthew is so wrapped up in himself and morphs from loving Jeanie to at best ignoring her and at worst judging her and Scarlett is everything you’d not want to find in a step-daughter – when she’s not having a sulk she’s fluttering her eyes at Frankie… not what any stepmother needs.
This book has everything I love in this genre, a good premise, a real feeling of tension which mounts steadily throughout, plenty of action and twists and turns that had me reading with my mouth open as it worked its way towards a terrific ending. I was already a big fan of Claire Seeber’s writing and I think this is probably her best book yet.