Book Reviews

Book Review: After Anna by Lisa Scottoline – Predictable and Unbelievable

When someone recommends a book or author in one of my book groups, I’ve been ready to dive in. After a number of clunkers, I’m starting to get less enthusiastic about taking suggestions. Lisa Scottoline was recommended by several people who also enjoy Colleen Hoover, and I have to say that both have underwhelmed me.

Maggie and Noah are not quite newlyweds but are still in the early years of a second marriage for both of them. Noah is a widower with a young son. Maggie has a daughter she’s estranged from, thanks to a bitter custody battle while she was suffering from post-partum psychosis.

One night, Maggie gets a phone call. Her ex-husband has died and Anna, the daughter she barely knows, wants to move away from the boarding school she’s attending in Maine and come to live with Maggie and Noah. Maggie dives in head-first to being a mother again, while Noah is hesitant. Something seems off to him. Anna is a gorgeous 17-year-old who flouts the house rules at every turn. She has a huge inheritance from her father, so she manages to get whatever she wants. While Noah urges Maggie to reign her in, Maggie is too desperate to be liked by the daughter she barely knows to listen. The end result is a badly fractured marriage. When Anna is found murdered, Noah is accused of the crime.


There’s so much in After Anna that is completely implausible. The big reveal is that it isn’t really Anna that Maggie has brought home, but someone impersonating her to get her hands on her inheritance. We’d have to believe that Anna could be signed out of her very expensive boarding school without seeing anyone at the school in person. Everything was done via email and Maggie going to see the school counselor and registrar without “Anna.” The same is true of the lawyer for the estate. Anna sends him emails and he just sends her the money, knowing she’s a 17-year-old. He doesn’t think to check with Maggie first.

“Anna” sets Noah up once she realizes he won’t be manipulated the way Maggie can be. Every time Noah suggests they take a step back and breathe, since things seem to be moving too fast, Maggie is there accusing him of not wanting her to have a relationship with her daughter. She accuses him of being jealous over their relationship and resenting that her attention is now elsewhere. Really, Maggie is like a petulant child whining “Don’t you want to be happy” every time a parent tries to set limits.

Noah is found guilty of the murder, but Maggie isn’t so sure. Once he’s in prison, she starts looking into it on her own and uncovers an international trafficking ring of young girls in Maine, who abducted the real Anna and put someone else in her place. It’s a race against time as Noah won’t survive long in prison. Without going before a judge, he’s released just in time by a phone call.

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

As a reader, I knew something was off, but Maggie ignores everything to become an overly-indulgent mother. It’s not until she’s sitting in court, wondering how she got there. I wanted to slap her more than once, and then to be expected to believe that she was able to uncover the trafficking ring when the Feds and local police were unable is suspect.

There wasn’t much I enjoyed about After Anna. The structure is off, going back and forth between Noah’s trial and the events leading up to it. There’s way too much dialogue and little description, except for things that felt like filler. A heavy-handed editor would have helped, but I don’t think I could have enjoyed the story the way it plays out regardless. The characters aren’t believable in any way. Noah and Maggie have the “perfect” marriage before “Anna” comes along. He’s a good-looking, perfect doctor who is everything a woman could want in a man, yet after one accusation from a daughter she barely knows, Maggie throws him out. It just didn’t feel real – it felt like some high school girl’s fantasy.

I get that the author was trying to create tension by going back and forth between the trial and the events preceding it, but it just doesn’t work. We know that Noah is on trial and Anna is dead, but we don’t know how involved he actually was in events. He seems to feel guilty for something, but that’s a red herring as the events play out. The only thing he’s guilty of is being right all along.

I’d pass on this book, and Scottoline is another author I’m rethinking in light of the two books I’ve read by her that really left me underwhelmed. She tries to create legal thrillers, but it’s like she has no idea how the legal system works and just makes it up to suit her story. I was surprised to learn she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and actually taught there as well. I would be worried about sending my students there to learn the law if this is an example of what they turn out.