stone cold secrets

Marianne worked hard to get away from the small town where she grew up. In Nusstead, the mental hospital where most of the residents worked closed down, and jobs have been hard to come by ever since. The government promised new jobs, as they sold the closed hospital to a developer who would turn it into a luxury hotel, but that never materialized. So as a teenager, Marianne had to choose between a better education—a better life—for herself, or a life in Nusstead with her high school boyfriend.

She coldly chose to turn her back on Nusstead, and on Jesse, to find something more.

However, a dark secret still ties her to her hometown, and to Jesse, and it has the potential to destroy her well sculpted life. As an adult, Marianne is married with a daughter, she is a respected authority on historical architecture, and she has to revisit Nusstead to help care for her aging mom. Will she be able to keep her secrets at bay, or will the wolves come calling for blood?

Helen Greenlaw was an advocate for better mental health care for patients. She knew that the hospital in Nusstead was a danger to its patients and needed to close. It wasn’t just her decision to close the hospital, but she was the one who forced its sudden closing, not allowing time for the patients or the workers to transition well to their next chapter. Many in Nusstead blamed her for the loss of their livelihoods. But what they don’t know, what they can’t know, is that she had secrets too; that her secrets are tied to those of Marianne and Jesse; and she’d do anything to stop them coming out.

She coldly chose to turn her back on Nusstead, and its major employer, to try to improve the care of mental patients throughout England.

Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly is a complex look at what it means to be a mother, what kind of sacrifices a woman will make for her child, and the secrets and lies that those choices can lead to. Moving back through time, the women’s stories bend and twist, at times coming together and at other times moving in opposite directions. Themes of love and sacrifice, selfishness and generosity, ego and control are on display in this complicated look at family and ambition.

I found Stone Mothers a little uneven at times, slowing down for me and then speeding up in turn. But the more I read, the more I liked it and found the rhythms reassuring. This is a far more powerful and thoughtful novel than I first expected, and I grew to respect these characters deeply. This is not just your average thriller, with its secrets exposed and families devastated. The nuances of the choices, of the relationships, of the desperation elevate this from a typical quick-read thriller to a moving work of literary fiction that can expand your definition of a mother’s love in all directions. Highly recommended!

Galleys for Stone Mothers were provided by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.