During a swimming accident, nine-year-old Sebastian Duncan stops breathing. While others attempt to resuscitate him, he has a near-death experience, wherein he meets his mother, who died the previous year from an overdose of sleeping pills. She tells Sebastian that her own death was not the suicide that people believed it was and that he must return to tell his grandmother that she was in fact murdered.
At the insistence of Sebastian's grandmother, chief investigator Arlene Flynn is assigned the task of re-opening the year-old case to determine whether the death was the suicide it was originally believed to be or if there is a very clever murderer on the loose. Did the boy actually have a legitimate near-death experience, or did he simply suppress some memory of the murder, only to have the trauma of his accident bring it back up to the surfact? With no evidence to indicate murder, no credible witness making such a claim, and a great deal of political pressure, Arlene Flynn must tackle the most challenging case of her career in H. Paul Jeffers's thrilling What Mommy Said.
The otherworldly and the all too worldly collide in this woefully inelegant novel. After coming close to drowning, nine-year-old Sebastian Duncan tells his grandmother that, while he was near death, his dead mother, supposedly a suicide, told him that she was actually murdered. At the grandmother's insistence, Jennifer Duncan's death by an overdose of sleeping pills is reinvestigated. The now-wealthy widower, James, a reputed adulterer, is the chief suspect. Meanwhile, Matilda Allen, a rich widow is found strangled with her own stocking. Her maroon BMW is missing, and her deadbeat son has just been paroled from prison. Arlene Flynn, special investigator for the district attorney in this upstate New York locale, probes both deaths, plodding through a tale marred by several weak plot devices. Arlene's lapsed-Catholic religious beliefs are given a lot of mileage near the start, then abruptly dropped. Her love of mystery fiction seems only a means for the author to show off his knowledge of Inspector Morse and Sherlock Holmes stories. Jennifer died after a party, and the partygoers are unconvincingly served up as suspects. The real killer is left far from the center of the narrative in a way that Arlene's beloved crime authors would never tolerate. The murder of wealthy Matilda is by far the meatier of the two deaths, but Jeffers (A Grand Night for Murder, etc.) never gets far enough away from the plight of young Sebastian to ratchet the tension up to a compelling level.