Book Review—What Has Mother Done

What Has Mother Done Cover

I’m just going to come out and say it. Barbara Petty is a little sneaky. When I began reading What Has Mother Done, the author introduced a story that could easily have been a cozy mystery. Sure, right off the bat, there’s a body. But we’ve got a main character who is wicked-funny with her internal thoughts and asides pitted against the proverbial small town where everyone—and I mean everyone—has a secret.

Petty’s Thea Browne is no ingenue, either. She’s a hard-bitten investigative reporter who has been around the block a few times. When we meet her, she faces the bleak prospect of looking after her recently widowed mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. During the investigation, Thea is forced to put up with her best friend, Annie, who has gone a little wonky of late. And she must also deal with her sister, Beryl. Yeah, they don’t get along. As if all that wasn’t enough, let’s throw in some hot flashes.

Yes, the story could have been a perfectly respectable cozy mystery. That is until the body count goes up. What Has Mother Done is a first-rate mystery thriller. The characters are engaging—and often frustrating. As Thea goes about trying to solve the mystery of her stepfather’s untimely death, I found my pulse quickening. If you enjoy smartly written scenes of small-town intrigue, violence, and questionable loyalties, then I suggest you check out this excellent novel.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

In a small Midwestern town, on a cold, blustery March day, a man plunges to his death off a high, rocky cliff, setting in motion a string of events that lead to murders and rips open the long-hidden secrets of the town’s most prominent family…

The man is George Prentice, and the woman the police suspect of murdering him is his wife, Daphne. But Daphne has Alzheimer’s and, as she is likely to be incompetent to stand trial, has not been arrested.

Daphne’s daughter, Thea Browne, is a trained investigative reporter, who is furious that the police haven’t bothered to look any further for a culprit other than her mother. She suspects her stepfather made enemies when meddling in local politics and, according to one of his cronies, George wrote a memoir threatening to “blow the lid off this town.”

As Thea follows her own investigation, she discovers a widening circle of suspects, some much closer to home than she expected. Even her best friend from childhood, Annie Biggs, seems to be keeping a deep dark secret that she refuses to share with Thea.

More murders push Thea to the point where protecting her mother forces her to put her own life on the line to track down a diabolical killer.

Where to Buy

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

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Three Things I Learned from ‘The Dead Don’t Die’

The Dead Dont Die Poster

I’ve been a fan of Jim Jarmusch since forever. What I love most about his movies is, he doesn’t waste time and money. His stories are lean, character-driven pieces that get to the point quickly. Films like ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ ‘Down by Law,’ and ‘Broken Flowers.’ No boring backstory, no big government conspiracy. Just people dealing with everyday shit they have no control over.

Warning—Spoilers Ahead

Not Every Zombie Story Has to Be the Apocalypse

The Dead Don’t Die’ is the director’s latest film, and it’s a hoot. We’ve got Bill Murray as the police chief of a small town who, by his own admission, should’ve retired two years ago. Adam Driver as an officer, who seems to be the only person in Centerville that seems to know they are all in a Jim Jarmusch movie. And other wonderful actors like Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, and Selena Gomez.

The script is smart and low key. Lines are repeated by different characters, giving the film an almost Sartre vibe where everyone is caught up in an existential nightmare that won’t end. Here’s an example, which each character varies a little:

What the heck was it, a wild animal? Several wild animals?

Oh, and there’s the dead. Yeah, they’re coming out of the ground like in the original ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ with at least one of them reeking of cheap chardonnay.

When the Dead Start Rising, That’s When You Know Who Your Friends Are

As things go from bad to worse, people act out in different ways. Hermit Bob keeps an eye on the proceedings from a distance, making comments like this gem:

Cliff and little Ronnie. Warriors. Among the dead. Zombies. Remnants of the materialist people.

Officer Mindy continues to freak out with each new horror. Meanwhile, Hank and Bobby have banded together to try and save the hardware store—and themselves. And good ol’ Farmer Frank goes it alone with his gun and deep-seated prejudices as he discovers all his cows and chickens have vanished. Tilda Swinton, who is always mesmerizing, is perhaps the only one who confronts the danger head-on, using a razor-sharp Katana to behead the invaders.

And some are just clueless, like the three out-of-town hipsters staying at the local motel. For some reason, Cliff and Ronnie have decided they are from Cleveland.

If You’re Going to Die, You Might as Well Have a Good Theme Song

Just so you know, everyone—and I mean everyone—in this thing dies at the end. I think Officer Ronnie said it best:

If you ask me, this whole thing is going to end badly.

Well, okay, maybe not Hermit Bob. I mean, someone has to survive to tell the story, right? But here’s the thing. If you’re going to make a movie about zombies taking over a small, peaceful town and ripping everyone to pieces, then you’d better have a good theme song.

And this movie does. The song “The Dead Don’t Die,” written and performed by Sturgill Simpson, is perfect. In fact, for those who might be squeamish about seeing so much blood and guts, you might want to purchase the tune so you can at least feel you were a part of the experience.

Fun fact: According to the credits, someone got hired as a zombie movement consultant. What a country.

Movie Details

The Greatest Zombie Cast Ever Disassembled

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits
Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for language