After the Party by Cassie Hamer

‘I’m sorry.  Please know this above all else.’

Ava Wheeldon is having a fifth birthday party.  Her mum Lisa has invited Ava’s kindergarten class (all 32 of them), has a list of all the tasks (spreadsheets can be so useful!).  It’s ambitious, but Lisa has a schedule and the help of her husband Scott and her sister Jamie.  What could possibly go wrong? Well, as Lisa finds out, just about everything.  Oversleeping puts the schedule under pressure, and the food preparation doesn’t go according to plan either.  And Lisa’s not getting to meet many of the parents as most parents just drop their children off and leave.

Finally, the party ends, and the children are picked up.  All except for one little girl, Ellie.  Lisa figures that Ellie’s mother is running late. But there’s a note from Ellie’s mum asking Lisa to look after Ellie, to keep her safe.  The note asks Lisa not to call the police (as they’ll take Ellie into care) and says that she’ll be back for her.

At first, Lisa thought it was a sick joke.  But what kind of mother would abandon a child, and why have the Wheeldons been chosen?

‘The right thing to do is always the hardest.’

Lisa and Jamie decide to try to find Ellie’s mum.  Scott wants to telephone the police, but he’s willing (reluctantly) to wait a while.  So begins a well-intentioned (albeit at times bizarre) journey for both Lisa and Jamie. Add in relationship issues, ghosts from the past, competitive school mummies, and a vengeful ex and you have a mystery with a twist (or two).

I liked Lisa, and while I was never brave (or perhaps foolish) enough to have 32 guests at a children’s birthday party, I could relate to the organisational mayhem.  I enjoyed the touches of humour as the story unfolded, and I was satisfied by the ending.  Ms Hamer deftly handles several different issues in this novel.  The main characters are well drawn, and the minor characters fit into their supporting roles neatly.  I enjoyed it.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith