REVIEW: Mother-Daughter Murder Night by Nina Simon
Nothing brings an estranged family together like a murder next door.
High-powered businesswoman Lana Rubicon has a lot to be proud of: her keen intelligence, impeccable taste, and the L.A. real estate empire she’s built. But when she finds herself trapped 300 miles north of the city, convalescing in a sleepy coastal town with her adult daughter Beth and teenage granddaughter Jack, Lana is stuck counting otters instead of square footage—and hoping that boredom won’t kill her before the cancer does.
Then Jack—tiny in stature but fiercely independent—happens upon a dead body while kayaking near their bungalow. Jack quickly becomes a suspect in the homicide investigation, and the Rubicon women are thrown into chaos. Beth thinks Lana should focus on recovery, but Lana has a better idea. She’ll pull on her wig, find the true murderer, protect her family, and prove she still has power.
With Jack and Beth’s help, Lana uncovers a web of lies, family vendettas, and land disputes lurking beneath the surface of a community populated by folksy conservationists and wealthy ranchers. But as their amateur snooping advances into ever-more dangerous territory, the headstrong Rubicon women must learn do the one thing they’ve always resisted: depend on each other.
CW/TW – one of the main characters has cancer and is getting treatments.
Dear Ms. Simon,
I don’t read too many contemporary murder mysteries but this one sounded interesting. The dynamics of the Rubicon women caught my attention and made me want to read about them. In a way, solving the murder was kind of a side interest to watching the way Lana Rubicon power walked into a scene and grabbed it with both hands. Lana is the kind of woman who can make grown men fear and obey her and now she’s passing on some of her skills to her granddaughter – while solving a murder.
Beth Rubican and her mother have never really gotten along well. When seventeen year old Beth announced she was pregnant and keeping her baby, Lana didn’t take the news well. Beth ended up moving out of LA to Northern California and making her own way. But when her mother calls her from the hospital with a new cancer diagnosis and needs a place to recuperate and get her chemo, Beth drops everything, drives five hours each way and hauls her mother, along with five suitcases of designer clothes, back to her small bungalow by a marshy slough near Monterey.
It’s not all happy families though as Lana is going bonkers away from the powerful career she built for herself by the sweat of her brow and the abandonment of her young daughter after her asshat husband left them. Waking up in the middle of the night, Lana sees something down by the slough – a man hauling something via a wheelbarrow. It’s not until her granddaughter Jack (for Jacqueline) is guiding a kayak tour and two of the participants find a dead body on the mudflats – and the detectives show up directing pointed questions towards Jack – that Lana puts two and two together. Too bad the police aren’t interested in what she tells them. Lana realizes that she needs to protect her mixed race granddaughter from a bigoted. misogynistic cop and then solve this murder. It’s time for her to pull out her Chanel suits, power stilettos, and “take no prisoners” attitude.
Beware of reading the prologue without a warning. A harbor seal has died on the beach near Beth’s house and, in the third paragraph, readers are “treated” to a fairly gross description of it. Skip the third paragraph and you’ll be okay.
I was correct to pay more attention to the women of the book and how they go about solving the murder rather than be focused on the “who-dunnit.” The Rubicon women are tough each in their own way. Lana, as mentioned, has built her own career and makes men sweat merely at the sound of her heels coming down the hall. She’s a steamroller and lets little stand in her way. Cancer? She might be staggering a bit in exhaustion a few days after her chemo sessions but can still shove the weakness aside and pull off a power suit and designer shoes while intimidating Jack’s loser boss with a direct stare. Though I would love to believe that Lana could pull off all she does, it seems a little bit of a stretch for a woman at the end of five months of chemo.
Beth seems like the quiet, gentler one but she stuck to her guns, kept her baby, renovated her house, went to nursing school, and has raised Jack alone with no help from the father and little from her mother. She might not be able to completely rein her mother in but she can curb her a little. Beth has also dealt with the stares and comments about her biracial daughter and unlike Lana, Beth knows things can be stacked against Jack just because of the color of her skin. She is fiercely protective of her daughter but also doesn’t let Jack get away with breaking rules they’ve made.
Jack loves the slough, loves being on the water, loves seeing the natural world around her and is horrified at what her tourists found. Even after her grandmother’s spirited defense and the investigation turns away from her as “person of interest,” Jack is keen to help figure out what really happened and why. The more time she spends with Lana – or Prima as Jack calls her – the more life lessons and negotiating skills Lana imparts to her about getting men to do what you want.
These women are tough and fierce when they need to be. Do they eventually crack the case? Well, eventually. There are a plethora of possible culprits with motives, secrets, and means to have done the crime. There’s also a police detective who is determined to shoo Lana and her interference off the case. I enjoyed watching them put their skills and knowledge to work as well as following along via the clues lightly scattered along the way. The final paragraphs hint at possible future books which I would be happy to read. B