A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
Published by Harper on March 21, 2017
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
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It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.
But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.
Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems.
Sometimes, I finish an amazing book and ask myself, “What did I just read?”—in a good way. I asked myself that same question after finishing A Simple Favor—but not in a good way. For the life of me, I could not figure out if this book was a genuine thriller or just satire. I’m still wondering.
Stephanie is a widow and stay-at-home mom to her five-year-old son. She has a blog targeted toward other moms (aka a mommy blog). Emily is a PR rep for a prominent fashion designer in New York. She and Stephanie meet because their sons are in kindergarten together. But Emily’s life couldn’t be more different from Stephanie’s: Emily’s a driven professional with a gorgeous British husband, Sean, who’s just as successful. Stephanie, on the other hand, doesn’t work and doesn’t really have friends. She has a pretty lonely life. So when she meets Emily, she latches onto her right away.
One day, Emily has an emergency and asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school for her (you guessed it, she asks for A Simple Favor). Stephanie is glad to help her BFF, but things quickly go south when Emily falls off the radar. She never arrives to pick up her son from Stephanie’s house and Stephanie can’t get ahold of her. Emily has disappeared.
Panicked, Stephanie blogs about Emily’s disappearance (I’ll get back to this in a moment) and pleads with her readers for help and information. A police investigation also ensues. Ultimately, the worst-case scenario is confirmed: Emily is dead. But what really happened to Emily?
This book had so much potential! I was riveted until the twist, then I was just…confused. Plot holes abound and were either brushed off, or were never addressed at all.
First, Stephanie’s blog. Much of the book contains her blog entries, but there’s little to no mention of community; her readers seem like more of an idea. I think it would have been more effective to include comments and discussions from her readers because the blog entries on their own feel very one-sided. The fact that she begins every entry with a cheery, “Hi moms!” and signs off with “Love, Stephanie,” also contributes to the one-sidedness of every post.
More importantly, I just couldn’t comprehend how there are so many plot holes when it comes to the police investigation surrounding Emily’s disappearance. Police presence seems like an afterthought, and for Stephanie to blog basically a play-by-play of the disappearance, investigation, and resolution? I suppose it’s not illegal, but it certainly seems like a very bad idea, considering Stephanie is so closely related to the case.
Then there’s the twist itself, which is a callback to other mysteries I’ve read and doesn’t feel unique at all. The story goes off the rails at this point and kept reminding me of a soap opera with its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to storytelling. There’s one plot point in particular that I think was intended to be shocking, but just left me scratching my head once again.
I picked this up in anticipation of the film adaptation, which I’m decidedly less excited about now. I might still see it, just to see if they’ve improved on the story at all. This was a riveting read until the reveal, after which I just felt unsatisfied. Sadly, I would not recommend this book.
Rating: 2 stars