Lisa Scottoline has delivered taut thrillers with a powerful emotional wallop in her New York Times bestsellers Save Me, Think Twice, and Look Again. Now, with her new novel, Come Home, she ratchets up the suspense with the riveting story of a mother who sacrifices her future for a child from her past.
Jill Farrow is a typical suburban mom who has finally gotten her and her daughter's lives back on track after a divorce. She is about to remarry, her job as a pediatrician fulfills her-though it is stressful-and her daughter, Megan, is a happily over-scheduled thirteen-year-old juggling homework and the swim team.
But Jill's life is turned upside down when her ex-stepdaughter, Abby, shows up on her doorstep late one night and delivers shocking news: Jill's ex-husband is dead. Abby insists that he was murdered and pleads with Jill to help find his killer. Jill reluctantly agrees to make a few inquiries and discovers that things don't add up. As she digs deeper, her actions threaten to rip apart her new family, destroy their hard-earned happiness, and even endanger her own life. Yet Jill can't turn her back on a child she loves and once called her own.
Come Home reads with the breakneck pacing of a thriller while also exploring the definition of motherhood, asking the questions: Do you ever stop being a mother? Can you ever have an ex-child? What are the limits to love of family?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Lisa Scottoline is a New York Times bestselling and Edgar Awardwinning author of eighteen novels. She has served as the president of the Mystery Writers of America and her recent novel Look Again has been optioned for a feature film. She is a weekly columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer and her columns have been collected in two books and optioned for television. She has 25 million copies of her books in print in the United States, and she has been published in thirty countries. She lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets.
Date of Birth:July 1, 1955
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1981
Read an Excerpt
Jill stopped on the stairway, listening. She thought she heard a voice calling her from outside, but she’d been wrong before. It was probably the rushing of the rain, or the lash of the wind through the trees. Still, she listened, hoping.
“Babe?” Sam paused on the stair, resting his hand on the banister. He looked back at her, his eyes a puzzled blue behind his glasses. “Did you forget your phone?”
“No, I thought I heard something.” Jill didn’t elaborate. She was in her forties, old enough to have a past and wise enough to keep her thoughts about it to herself.
“What?” Sam asked, patiently. It was almost midnight, and they’d been on their way to bed. The house was dark except for the glass fixture above the stairwell, and the silvery strands in Sam’s thick, dark hair glinted in the low light. Their chubby golden retriever, Beef, was already upstairs, looking down at them from the landing, his buttery ears falling forward.
“It’s nothing, I guess.” Jill started back up the stairs, but Beef swung his head toward the front of the house and gave an excited bark. His tail started to wag, and Jill turned, too, listening again.
“It’s Abby!” Jill heard it for sure, this time. The cry resonated in her chest, speaking directly to her heart. She turned around and hurried for the entrance hall, and Beef scampered downstairs after her, his heavy butt getting ahead of him, like a runaway tractor-trailer.
“Abby who?” Sam called after her. “Your ex’s kid?”
“Yes.” Jill reached the front door, twisted the deadbolt, flicked on the porch light, and threw open the door. Abby wasn’t there, and Jill didn’t see her because it was so dark. There were no streetlights at this end of the block, and the rain obliterated the outlines of the houses and cars, graying out the suburban scene. Suddenly, a black SUV with only one headlight drove past, spotlighting a silhouette that Jill would know anywhere. It was Abby, but she was staggering down the sidewalk as if she’d been injured.
“Sam, call 911!” Jill bolted out of the house and into the storm, diagnosing Abby on the fly. It could have been a hit-and-run, or an aneurysm. Not a stroke, Abby was too young. Not a gunshot or stab wound, in this neighborhood.
Jill tore through the rain. Beef bounded ahead, barking in alarm. The neighbor’s motion-detector went on, casting a halo of light on their front lawn. Abby stumbled off the sidewalk. Her purse slipped from her shoulder and dropped to the ground. Abby took a few more faltering steps, then collapsed, crumpling to the grass.
“Abby!” Jill screamed, sprinting to Abby’s side, kneeling down. Abby was conscious, but crying. Jill reached for her pulse and scanned her head and body for signs of injury, and there were none. Rainwater covered Abby’s face, streaking her mascara and blackening her tears. Her hair stuck to her neck, and rain plastered her thin sundress to her body. Her pulse felt strong and steady, bewildering Jill. “Abby, Abby, what is it?”
“You have to … hold me.” Abby raised her arms. “Please.”
Jill gathered Abby close, shielding her from the rain. She’d held Abby so many times before, and all the times rushed back at her, as if her very body had stored the memories, until that very moment. Jill flashed on the time Abby had fallen off her Rollerblades, breaking an ankle. Then the time Abby had gotten a C on her trig final. The time she didn’t get picked for the travel soccer team. Abby had always been a sensitive little girl, but she wasn’t a little girl anymore, and Jill had never seen her cry so hard.
“Abby, honey, please, tell me, and I can help.”
“I can’t say it … it’s so awful.” Abby sobbed, and Jill caught a distinct whiff of alcohol on her breath and came up to speed. Abby wasn’t injured, she’d been drinking. Jill hadn’t seen her in three years, and Abby had grown up; she’d be nineteen now. Abby sobbed harder. “Jill, Dad’s dead … he’s dead.”
“What?” Jill gasped, shocked. Her ex-husband was in excellent health, still in his forties. “How?”
“Somebody … killed him.” Abby dissolved into tears, her body going limp, clinging to Jill. “Please, you have to … help me. I have to find out … who did it.”
Jill hugged her closer, feeling her grief and struggling to process what had happened. She couldn’t imagine William as a murder victim, or a victim of any kind, for that matter, but her first thought was of his daughters, Abby and Victoria, and her own daughter, Megan. The news would devastate all of them, Megan included. William was her stepfather, but the only father she’d ever known. Her real father had died before she was born.
“Babe, what are you doing? Let’s get her into the house!” Sam shouted, to be heard over the rain. He was kneeling on Abby’s other side, though Jill didn’t know when he’d gotten there.
“William’s been murdered,” Jill told him, sounding numb, even to herself.
“I heard. We’re not calling 911, she’s just drunk.” Sam squinted against the brightness of the motion-detector light. Raindrops soaked his hair and dappled his polo shirt. “Let me take her arm. Lift her on one, two, three,” he counted off, tugging Abby’s arm.
“Okay, go.” Jill took Abby’s other arm, and together they hoisted her, sobbing, to her feet, gathered her purse, and half walked and half carried her toward the house, sloshing through the grass, with Beef at their heels.
Jill tried to collect her thoughts, which were in turmoil. She’d always dreamed of seeing Abby again, but not in these circumstances, and she dreaded telling Megan about William. But as agonized as she felt for the girls, Jill wouldn’t shed a tear for her ex-husband. There was a reason she had divorced the man, and it was a whopper.
And evidently, not only the good died young.
Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Scottoline
Reading Group Guide
A Letter from Lisa Scottoline
I'm so happy to have the chance to talk with you more informally, outside the four corners of this book, to tell you something about what inspired the novel. Not every author is as confessional as I am but I find that the more I writefor twenty years, nowthe more I connect with my readers; I bring the emotions that I've experienced in real life to power my fiction and to give it greater dramatic impact. More importantly, if the novel is powered by real emotions, from life-changing events like this one, I think the reader feels it, which gives the book a deeper meaning of its own. To me, the highest and best purpose of fiction is to connect us, one to the other, and to reinforce the commonality of human experience. At bottom, great fiction tells you that you're not alone in the worldyou feel that at soul-level, in the most subtle of ways, through plot, character, and narrative drive. So here's a little background on what inspired me to write Come Home.
Many of my more recent novels, probably starting with Look Again and continuing to Save Me and, now, Come Home, have explored the parameters of motherhood. I've been a single mother for most of my life and my relationship with my daughter Francesca means so much to me in so many ways, but now that she's up and out of the house I find myself pondering the subject of motherhood more and more. Part of this is because I'm a mother, and part is because I'm a daughter, too. Those of you who have read the humorous memoirs that Francesca and I write together, like Best Friends, Occasional Enemies, will know that I was raised by a strong, feisty, and funny mother, who I call Mother Mary; and she has been, in many ways, my loving, if occasionally cranky, lodestar for this examination.
But I have a life experience that Mother Mary never had, in that after almost ten years of being a single mother I got married againto a man with three daughters. And so I became stepmother to three children. Two of my stepdaughters lived with us and getting to know them, love them, and become their stepmother was an amazing and interesting, if occasionally challenging, experience. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't last, ending in divorce; by that point, my stepdaughters were in college, but suffice it to say that my period of stepmotherhood has effectively ended.
Now that's an interesting experience, for someone who regards herself as a mother, first and foremost. It led naturally to all sorts of questions that you will find lurking in the subtext of Come Home, such as: Is it possible to be an ex-mother? Do you ever really stop being a mother? What are the boundaries of stepparenthood? How does it begin, and how does it end, if it does? Do you trade past for present, where children are involved? Do you owe a stepchild the same duty you owe your children, beyond the marriage? How can a tie that grows organically from love be influenced by law, much less severed?
I don't think these questions are often discussed in public, or in fiction, though becoming a stepmother, and becoming an ex-stepmother, is a common experience these days. For better or for worse, marriages aren't lasting through better or worse, and children are always affected, albeit in varying degrees. This underlying uneasiness with families reconfiguring and recombining has been called blending, but as you can see in Come Home, trying to blend a family can sometimes turn it into a dog's dinner, especially when the unexpected happens, as it does in the novel.
And somehow, when there are disparate elements to be reconciled in families, my experience has been that it's usually the mother who provides the glue. It isn't an easy task, and in Come Home, Jill struggles mightily with it, not only when she has to choose to fit her former stepdaughter Abby back into her life, but also later, when she has to deal with Sam's apparent resentment over the fact that she hasn't been making time for his son. Consider that Jill is a mom with a child of her own, former stepchildren, and a current stepson. Anybody who's been in that position knows that that's more plates in the air than most moms can handle. I suspect, too, that if you haven't been in that position, you can relate to it anyway; because, in my experience, women are somehow always making sure that everybody in the room is happy and healthy, whether they're tied by blood, by law, or not at all. Myself, I am generally responsible for the health and welfare of most of the tristate area, and I bet you are, too.
So that's the secret thinking behind Come Home that led me to want to explore the subject more deeply, and in fiction. As I said in the Acknowledgments of the novel, the characters in Come Home are not my own family, or ex-family, or real people at all, and that, again, is the great merit of fiction. Books enable us to go deeper into our emotions and the everyday crises that keep us on the telephone with our girlfriends, with our mothers, or even with the other members of our book clubs. I always think that as society becomes increasingly more complex and spread out, the explosion of book clubs proves that people look to fiction to bring them together, not all only to each other, but ultimately to themselves.
I feel honored that you are reading Come Home and I'm very grateful for your support. Thank you for your time. I hope that you enjoyed reading it, and that you will give my other books a try.
Ideas for Book Groups
I am a huge fan of book clubs because it means people are reading and discussing books. Mix that with wine and carbs, and you can't keep me away. I'm deeply grateful to all who read me, and especially honored when my book is chosen by a book club. I wanted an opportunity to say thank you to those who read me, which gave me the idea of a contest. Every year I hold a book-club contest and the winning book club gets a visit from me and a night of fabulous food and good wine. To enter is easy: all you have to do is take a picture of your entire book club with each member holding a copy of my newest hardcover and send it to me by mail or e-mail. No book club is too small or too big. Don't belong to a book club? Start one. Just grab a loved one, a neighbor or friend, and send in your picture of you each holding my newest book. I look forward to coming to your town and wining and dining with your group.
1. Come Home, at its heart, is the story of family, and more specifically, the blending of families. What are the dynamics in your own family like? What do you think the greatest challenge is in blending two families?
2. One of the main themes in this book is leaving home and "coming home." In which ways have each of the main characters (Jill, Abby, Megan, Victoria) left home or come home?
3. Do you understand Jill's emotional response to Abby when she first sees her after several years? Why or why not?
4. Describe Sam's response to the dynamics between Abby and Jill. Do you agree with him? Do you relate to his response? Do you feel he acted appropriately?
5. Have you ever had a situation where you were forced to be estranged from someone you cared about?
6. How do you think Abby's and Victoria's separation from Jill affected them? What do you think Jill could have done differently, given the circumstances?
7. How would you describe William? Why do you think Jill was so easily fooled by him?
8. What rights do you think a person should have if he or she was instrumental in helping raise a child? What do you think is better for the child? How do you think the legal system will deal with this issue in the future given the growing number of blended families?
9. Oftentimes a parent must give the majority of their attention to the child that needs it the most. Do you feel like Jill was neglecting Megan in favor of helping Abby? What would you have done if you were Jill?
10. Now, for fun: Would you help solve the murder of your ex-husband? Go easyat least until the second glass of wine has been served…