“The bike lay on the side of the road beneath a grey oak, the handlebars at an odd jutted angle, as if it had been thrown with angry force.”
It seems like such an appropriate coincidence to have an historic tennis finale happen just as this book publishes, as it tells a tangled story of tennis family, the Delaneys. Parents Stan and Joy have had their own impressive careers before opening a tennis school, and training their own four children. But success always seemed just out of reach, and the pressures only intensify the usual family frictions. In true Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers) style, we get flashbacks slowly revealing all of the dramas of the past, set against the present and biggest drama of all: Joy Delaney’s disappearance, and the family rift as suspicions land firmly on Stan.
To be honest, I’m not particularly interested in tennis or sport in general, but as a backdrop and setting up obsessions, it works really well. The four now-adult children have all moved on with greater or lesser success, each with their own struggles in life, all still tinged with that early history of life centred on winning and competing – even with each other. There’s also the contrast between the generations, too, with Joy looking back in retirement at the life choices she made, including the generational assumption that she’d give up her competitional tennis hopes to be a wife and mother.
The author has an absolute knack for mixing family drama and upping the ante with pressure-cooker like special circumstances, but on top of that there are so many extra strands of mystery. What has happened to Joy, does it relate to Stan’s own mysterious disappearances in the past, what secrets are the four children hiding? But then, ooh, let’s just light an absolute powder keg fuse: a mysterious stranger that turns up at the Delaney’s door one evening. Savannah seems like a lost waif, a sweet girl in a moment of need, but suspicions run everywhere through this page-turner.
And yes, page turner it is: all the strands of mystery just keep you racing through, wanting to know what’s happened and where the resolution will be. I was not disappointed, either: the ending managed to surprise and satisfy, both.
NetGalley eARC: 496 pages / 71 chapters
First published: 14th September 2021
Read from 6th-10th September 2021
My rating: 8/10