cover image The Second Mother

The Second Mother

Jenny Milchman. Sourcebooks Landmark, $26.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-7282-2636-1

Desperate for a fresh start after a family tragedy, Adirondacks resident Julie Weathers, the heroine of this atmospheric but character-challenged psychological thriller from Mary Higgins Clark Award–winner Milchman (Wicked River), jumps at the chance to move to a remote Maine island to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. On the first night, the house provided for her echoes with what appears to be ghostly laughter; the next evening there’s a very tangible intruder—11-year-old Peter Meyers, only scion of the powerful Hempstead clan who rule the island and its primary industry, lobster fishing. When the newcomer returns Peter, one of her future students, to his grandmother, the imposing matriarch, instead of showing gratitude, runs her off the property, setting the stage for the increasingly serious conflicts between the pair that will flare as Julie attempts to understand the gifted but troubled boy. Though Milchman laces the fairy tale setting with considerable charm and stages a pair of suspenseful aquatic life-or-death sequences, in the end her largely inconsistent, unconvincing characters capsize the story. Fans will hope for a return to form next time. Agent: Julia Kenny, Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary. (Aug.)