Vain, snobby, lording it over their inferiors, the queen-bee mothers of Ivy Woods Drive, an exclusive cul-de-sac in a D.C. suburb, spend much of their autumn planning their Halloween block party. (For some reason, it is the event of the year.) But according to an unnamed character in Tara Laskowski’s THE MOTHER NEXT DOOR (Graydon House, 340 pp. paper, $16.99), by the time this October’s party is over, “one of us will be dead.”
The book, a polished and entertaining homage to “Big Little Lies” and “Desperate Housewives,” begins seven weeks before Halloween. The Ivy Five, as the mothers call themselves, are in a state of frenzy. What will they wear? How will they decorate? “Think the most amazing, epic, terrifying Halloween decorations in the county,” one says.
But Theresa Pressley, who has just moved to Ivy Woods with her husband and teenage daughter, senses that all is not well. For one thing, there are only four Ivies; the fifth is missing. Why won’t anyone talk about her? What did she do? (What did the other four do? “It’s been 13 years,” an anonymous person calling herself “Ghost Girl” says in a message to a neighborhood watch group. “This is the Halloween I take revenge.”)
Soon Theresa is awarded a coveted bejeweled pin in the shape of an ivy leaf, marking her entrée into this nest of vipers. Before the autumn is out, we’ll be immersed not just in homicide, but also in adultery, fake identities, bullying and people locking other people in barns. The denouement is bonkers, but satisfying.
Not that Theresa is necessarily blameless. After she buys blueberry-apricot tarts from the store and pretends they’re homemade, we wonder what else she’s lying about. “How many hours do you have?” she says to herself, when someone asks her if she has any secrets. But out loud all she says is, “I’m afraid I’m just boring old me.”