Four mothers must identify a deadly threat at their daughters’ school before someone gets hurt. Coming in 2019.
Written By Sophie Hannah (the new mysteries starring Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), BA Paris (Behind Closed Doors), Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go), and Holly Brown (Don't Try to Find Me)
Carolyn, Bronnie, Elise, and Kendall are bound together by one thing—their four daughters are best friends at the highly competitive Orla Flynn Academy for the Performing Arts. Last year the foursome exploded because of brutal bullying between the girls, but they've since forgiven each other. The mothers, however, haven’t been able to move on. When new threats surface and "accidents" begin to happen—just as a mysterious new girl enters the scene—the mothers take matters into their own hands. But they will have to risk their own secrets being exposed if they stand a chance at uncovering the truth.
This is a preview of The Understudy. Click here to preorder the bundled audio and text of the whole serial.
For a second, all you see is beauty. That’s because the eye goes where it wants, where it’s drawn: to the flawless face, golden hair caught up in a bun, arm extended gracefully, lithe dancer’s body possibly about to take flight. Only she’s spinning slowly, toward you, and then you realize . . . her sky-blue leotard is splashed with blood. One arm is missing and the opposing leg is grotesquely twisted in a way that spells violence. A ballerina who really did break a leg, but it certainly wasn’t her good luck.
The voice is haunting and exquisite. Of course it is; it’s Jess Mordue’s. She’s incredibly talented, perhaps just as talented as my daughter Ruby, only far more beautiful. I’d never say that to Ruby, but she could hardly miss it. Jess is stunning.
Right now, we’re all stunned into silence here in the headmaster’s office, all four of us mothers. I feel Carolyn, Jess’s mom, staring daggers at me. I don’t want to look at her, and I don’t want to look at the demonic music box on the desk in front of us, and I don’t want to look down like I’m guilty, or like Ruby is. She can’t have done this. It’s not Ruby at all.
The other mothers don’t know the full story of who Ruby is, or who I am, or how the two fit together. They’re all British, so maybe they haven’t tried to imagine how hard it is to move from LA to London, leaving your husband behind, being solely responsible for the day-to-day rearing of someone as tempestuous as Ruby.
Her dream is to enter a world—a business—where beauty is revered, where Jess is likely to get breaks Ruby never will. Sometimes her insecurities take over. Sometimes it all gets out of control, and then she’s truly sorry, I know she is.
As the music box winds down, the plinking piano notes first irregular and then ceasing, the ballerina’s movement becomes jerkier until, mercifully, she’s still. Adam Racki whispers, as much to himself as any of us, “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles.” Then, for our benefit, he attributes, “Macbeth.”
Carolyn shakes her head in utter contempt for the headmaster. “You realize what that song is, don’t you?” she demands. She’s physically imposing, as tall as Jess but solid rather than willowy, not one to soften her features with makeup. She leans forward in her chair, jabbing her finger toward the music box—and toward Mr. Racki—but I feel like her aggression is aimed squarely at me, two seats to her left. “It’s ‘Castle on a Cloud.’ It’s Jess singing ‘Castle on a Cloud.’ Her audition song. You all get what this means.”
“None of us know yet what it means,” Mr. Racki says in that sonorous voice of his. He’s not handsome but he has an undeniable presence, which makes sense given his past success on the West End. His walls display photos of him in full makeup onstage beside such luminaries as . . . well, I don’t know the British theater greats, but I know they’re represented. And I like his habit of quoting from plays, though sometimes the Latin is a bit much. “We don’t know who left this in Jess’s locker.”
I’m not about to suggest that it was one of the other girls in the group of friends, though it is worth noting that their mothers, Bronnie and Elise, were also called into this meeting. Bronnie is sitting as a buffer between Carolyn and me, and Elise is on the other side of Carolyn. Our four girls are all studying musical theater at the Orla Flynn Academy. All us “mums” would do anything to protect them, which sometimes puts us at odds with each other. Alliances can form and dissolve in the blink of an eye....