full synopsis for she killed him first

Please note: this spoils every plot element of the novel

Kimber Clark’s having a rough morning, but they’re all rough, aren’t they? She’s glad her abusive husband isn’t home, but he hasn’t been home in days, and Kimber’s at the end of her rope parenting alone. Her daughter is the kind of brat you’d expect an alcoholic mother like Kimber to produce. Yet when she receives a text message saying the elementary school is on lockdown, she’s outside the gate in minutes. Rose Marie Clark survived a shooting in the cafeteria. There’s one problem: Witnesses claim that high schooler Zack Linzy was the shooter, and that’s not possible, because Kimber murdered him two days earlier. Someone must be framing him.

While search teams comb the neighborhood for Linzy, FBI Agent Wyatt Ashe begins questioning witnesses. He asks Kimber to bring Rose Marie in. But Rose Marie is five. If he asks questions, she’s going to answer honestly. She’ll tell Agent Ashe that Zack Linzy raped her, and they’ll be able to pin Kimber with motive for a crime they don’t know they’re investigating.

Law enforcement’s vain pursuit of Zack Linzy sends the media into a froth. A high-profile vigil is organized. Kimber combs the crowd of mourners for suspects and finds one: Felicia Freethy, Rose Marie’s kindergarten teacher, who gives a speech about how she knew Zack Linzy was troubled. She also claims that she saw Zack Linzy in the cafeteria. There’s no way the boy was there. And that means Felicia Freethy is lying.

Felicia’s life is changing quickly after the school shooting. The first thing she does—endorsed by her mother and boyfriend—is get a gun. “School shootings aren’t like lightning,” warns her boyfriend, Officer Brandon Boyle. If Felicia is attacked at school again, she wants to protect herself and her students.

She also starts getting attention after the shooting. By coincidence, a tip from Felicia leads Brandon to find the murder weapon, and they happily take credit for the progression in the case. Felicia is even invited to speak at the vigil. After her speech, she reaches out to Moms for Guns, a lobbying group that wants to arm teachers across the nation. They’re interested in Felicia’s relationship with Zack Linzy and her support of gun rights. They think she’s an ideal figurehead for a bill they want to pass. Felicia’s fully on board. The fact she’s lying about her relationship with the shooter is a tiny thing. Unimportant.

Suddenly Felicia finds herself in the eye of the media storm that requires her to commit to the lies. She’s hunting for a book deal, brokered by her ambitious mother Tiffany. Major networks want her time. Her personal life improves just as rapidly when Brandon proposes to her. A fancy house near the school goes on sale cheaply, since it was occupied by Alan Armstrong, a teacher who died in the shooting. Felicia and Brandon buy the Armstrong house, trusting the book deal will mean they can afford it. And Tiffany is all too happy to help Felicia spend the money they’re guaranteed to earn. If Felicia can keep everything spinning—her lies, the gossip, the media—then maybe it won’t all fall down. Maybe she won’t lose the house she can’t afford. Maybe…

Days after the shooting, there’s still no sign of Zack Linzy, alive or dead. Kimber’s starting to doubt her sanity. It’s hard to keep things straight when she’s never sober. She can’t find Zack Linzy’s grave again, though she’s confident it’s in a drainage ditch near her home. While searching out in the frigid night, she finds herself fleeing from a man in the darkness. She thinks it must be the actual shooter. He chases her. He’s going to kill her. Only Agent Ashe extracts Kimber safely—she’s much too drunk to save herself—but he doesn’t see her pursuer. Agent Ashe reveals that he was at the right place at the right time because Zack Linzy’s phone connected to the network in the area. They claim he’s nearby. The police are searching again.

Kimber snoops around the former Armstrong house during a yard sale, looking for a connection to Zack Linzy. She only finds proof that Brandon is cheating on Felicia when Kimber overhears him screwing another woman in the laundry room. She steals a laptop before sneaking out and finds a lot more than she bargained for: evidence that Zack Linzy wasn’t just an abuser, but an abuse victim, being assaulted by an adult man. Officer Boyle must have been hurting Zack Linzy. What if he was the shooter, too?

The graphic images nearly drown Kimber, so she drowns herself in alcohol and benzos. She’s too intoxicated to spurn the investigative advances of Agent Ashe. She lets him into her home to interview Rose Marie and goes upstairs to fortify herself with more drinks—where her abusive husband catches her. Her husband yells. He’s so angry, like he always is. Kimber runs from him and hits her head when she falls. Agent Ashe finds her alone, vomiting alcohol and pills, and has her institutionalized for a suicide attempt. Locked in at the hospital, her daughter placed temporarily with neighbor Jordann, Kimber hurls accusations. She tells Agent Ashe that Officer Brandon Boyle was raping Zack Linzy. She believes Boyle was the shooter. The agent is skeptical—Boyle is an upstanding member of the church and officer of the law.

Felicia’s increasingly worried. She filmed a high-profile interview with a national news show, but her interview has been delayed, and delayed again. When they finally get an air date, Tiffany Freethy arranges a viewing party with church members eager to see Felicia rise to fame. Which is the exact moment when breaking news arrives. There’s been another, bigger, more sordid shooting at a shopping mall in Colorado, and the cafeteria shooting is officially old news.

Even at the Moms for Guns fundraising event where Felicia is meant to be guest of honor, she can’t get attention. The lobbyists are whispering backstage, looking at a Colorado survivor as the new face of their movement. The offer for Felicia’s book deal arrives, and the dollar sum is piddling. She can’t afford the new house, the new car, the new life. The world is falling apart.

And when she arrives home, she finds Brandon having sex…with her mother Tiffany.

Felicia can only think of the gun she just bought.

She shoots. Brandon and Tiffany die, turning Felicia from model victim to murderer. And there’s a witness…

Earlier that same night, neighbor Jordann visits Kimber in the mental hospital. The social workers can’t reach Carson, Kimber’s husband, to take custody of Rose Marie. Kimber explodes with the trauma she’s been suppressing: Her husband kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant and Rose Marie wouldn’t be safe with him. Jordann is stunned. She confesses that she’s been having an affair with Carson but didn’t realize he was capable of such abuse. Kimber is less concerned with the cheating than she is with Rose Marie’s current whereabouts. The little girl is spending the night with a church member—at the Freethy house, in fact.

As soon as she sees an opening, Kimber bolts from the psych ward, racing to suburbia. She’s just in time to see Felicia stumbling out of her house—the murder scene—bloody and holding a gun. She says she’s killed “everyone” in the house, and Felicia is too distraught to say if “everyone” includes Rose Marie.

Zack Linzy emerges from the house behind her.

Kimber’s been in the hospital long enough that she’s sober. Seeing him alive untangles the drunken knots in her mind, and she realizes that it was never Zack Linzy she killed. She caught Carson climbing over her fence after a tryst with Jordann, and she killed and buried her husband instead. He’s been dead for over a week now. Their interactions were hallucinated. Her daughter’s rapist is still alive, and Felicia Freethy can’t seem to decide if she’d rather shoot Zack or Kimber.

She doesn’t get a chance to do either. The FBI has been surveilling Brandon’s house since Kimber’s accusation of abuse, so law enforcement moves in moments later. Surprised, Felicia accidentally discharges her gun—and kills herself.

Zack Linzy is arrested. Kimber is reunited briefly with Rose Marie, safe and whole.

Later, she learns that the photographic evidence of Zack Linzy’s victimization hadn’t been produced by Officer Boyle. It was the teacher, Alan Armstrong. That was why Zack Linzy snapped. That was why he was hiding inside the former Armstrong house, and why he witnessed Felicia’s murder-suicide on that horrible rainy night.

The rain also makes the drainage ditches flood. A body washes out, discovered by police. It’s Carson Clark. Kimber survived Felicia and Zack only to end up investigated for murder anyway. Sympathetic to Kimber, Jordann lies and tells Agent Ashe that she saw Carson die. She claims he fell over the fence and landed face-first on a shovel—a total accident. Kimber supports the story and escapes with nothing but charges for improper disposal of a body.

After a few months in jail, Kimber is reunited with her daughter. They’ve moved out of affluent suburbia. Kimber doesn’t drink anymore. But Kimber owns a gun now. Just one. Just in case things ever go wrong again…