Grace and Mike Covey are living a charmed life in contemporary London—she’s a part-time journalist for a local paper, and he’s a sought-after BBC filmmaker. Their son Adam is enrolled at the posh Sidley House Preparatory School; their daughter Jenny, 17, is working there as a temporary teaching assistant after failing her A-levels, and trying to decide whether to attempt them again.
On Adam’s eighth birthday—also Sports Day for the elementary students—a fire breaks out on the school’s second floor, quickly engulfing the old building. Grace, a volunteer mom that day, realizes Jenny is still inside on the upper floor, and rushes into the building to try and save her. When the ambulance arrives, they are both whisked off to the ICU—Jenny badly burned, with serious damage to her heart, and Grace in a coma.
Using a unique literary device, author Rosamund Lupton allows these two main characters to escape their unconscious bodies—to move around and communicate with each other, though no loved ones or medical staff see anything but their severely damaged physical selves, bedridden and mute.
When Grace hears Sarah, Mike’s sister and a police detective, tell him that the fire was arson, she begins to connect that horrific act to the hate mail Jenny had received over the last few months—some of which she had neglected to reveal to Mike. In her out-of-body state, Grace follows Sarah as she interviews potential suspects, and soon realizes that Jenny is still the arsonist’s target.
In Lupton’s debut, Sister, she wrote of the bond between sisters: one whose death was called a suicide, the other struggling to disprove that charge. In her second family-centered thriller, she explores the fierce love of a mother for her children, while at the same time unraveling a case of attempted murder fueled by jealousy and a history of abuse. With its hint of a Jodi Picoult family saga blended with an eerie Ruth Rendell mystery, Afterwards should appeal to readers of both genres.