I’ve been reading a lot of new crime/thriller releases lately, many of which have fallen into the sub category of police procedural. When done well this is a genre I really enjoy, but I have found myself craving a bit of a change on the crime fiction front. When I was lucky enough to receive Laura Wilson’s new book, The Other Woman, I was very excited. Not only did the book seem to be the answering change I was looking for, being more of a domestic thriller, but it also had an author quote from fellow crime writer Jo Spain. I recently read Spain’s new novel, Sleeping Beauties, and really enjoyed it (review here), so the fact she was describing this book as ‘stand out domestic noir . . . perfectly paced’ sounded very promising.
On the surface this thriller has a simple but effective premise. We are presented with Sophie, a wife and mother whose life appears to be completely enviable. Yet one day a message invades Sophie’s home, a message scrawled across the round robin Christmas newsletter Sophie sends out yearly; HE’S GOING TO LEAVE YOU. LETS SEE HOW SMUG YOU ARE THEN, YOU STUPID BITCH. Sophie could ignore the letter, if it wasn’t for the small fact that she’s already done nothing about the one before this, or the one before that. Desperate for answers, Sophie risks it all to gain access to the truth, stumbling along on a path which soon turns horrible wrong. All in all, a pretty sound and intriguing premise!
In a similar style to Jo Spain’s Sleeping Beauties, this novel opens with the clear design of capturing and sustaining a reader’s interest. In this case, we are presented with quite a jarring image; on the one hand, a grand and stylish house, the architecture something you cannot help but admire. On the other, two officers from the local constabulary, sat outside in their car as they contemplate the impending announcement of death which they must soon deliver, shattering such a tranquil tableau. You can’t help but wonder about the events which has lead them here, curious as to whose death is about to be confirmed.
From here we take a step backwards in time, suddenly placed within the very house we previously admired as the main story gets underway. It doesn’t take long for the author to get across a very clear image of the inhabitants, specifically Sophie. This is an extremely privileged house, with au pair’s and cleaners all part of the day to day life. Sophie herself is a stay at home mum, with a new business on the side, busy managing domestic affairs whilst her husband works in London. Much of their lifestyle can be gleamed from the snippets of the round robin Christmas newsletter we see Sophie writing. She talks of one child’s latest accomplishments in piano, of the underprivileged child they have started sponsoring, all whilst Sophie insists she is not writing to brag. Realistically, if you are not part of a similar social hierarchy, it is hard to see it as anything but, which immediately had me thinking of the amount of people whose pure jealousy and rage could result in the abusive letters Sophie had been receiving. I liked how this was done and the way in which the author quickly produces this social awareness, letting readers quickly latch onto stereotypes and producing an image that is perhaps not overly flattering on Sophie’s behalf.
Something which I didn’t expect to happen, but which nevertheless did, was the way in which I found myself more drawn in many ways to Sophie’s husband than Sophie herself. In a book which seems to sell itself as a woman trying to reclaim control and power around suggestions of an affair, I would have assumed that the husband would be dislikeable in some manner. Whilst Leo was by no means a brilliant example of characterisation, I did still feel myself forming a sympathetic alliance with him rather early on. In one section he talks of feeling like a ‘hamster on a wheel’ (p. 18). Liam works hard to sustain the lifestyle his family benefits from, but feels that each new thing they obtain only leads to further things to strive for. He feels that the ‘goalposts keep moving’ (p. 18), a metaphor I think many working people can sympathise with. We often find ourselves successfully tackling one obstacle only to find another in its place, and the character of Sophie seems to take such a privileged lifestyle for granted in many cases. She’s quite clichéd in the fact that she supposedly originates from a much lower social background, yet seems to have acclimatised so perfectly to her current lifestyle, desperate to keep it no matter what.
This idealistic life which Sophie had cultivated around herself quickly become coloured by this abusive letter. One of the things I struggled to quite grasp in the novel was how immediately paranoia seemed to seize hold of Sophie, dictating all of her actions. She lets the idea which the message had inspired take root firmly in her mind, poisoning her logic and all that she knows to be true. What I really couldn’t understand about this was why Sophie did not do the easy, and quite frankly realistic option, of simply confronting her husband. I think this would have been much more truer to the situation that the rather dramatic approach Sophie finds herself taking. Likewise, it was extremely frustrating the way that Sophie seems to swallow the suggestion of her husband’s affair so easily after many happily years married, yet is desperate to cling onto him even believing he had been unfaithful. I wanted to scream at her in times to have more self respect and to confront him.
When I first began reading this book I immediately found myself comparing it to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. It seems to have the similar setting of the domestic space, dealing with a crime/thriller which very much revolved around the relationships between people and households. Whilst having read the book I can still say this is true, I did not feel that this book was quite as fleshed out character and plot wise as the aforementioned novels. The main idea of the plot just did not feel as complex, and the further I read into the book the less of thriller it became.
Indeed, this leads on to one of the biggest issues I had with this novel. I feel that is very much marketed as a domestic thriller, when it actually fact it did not read as such. There is not really any shocking moments or a big reveal moment, with the novel actually reading as much more of a comedy of errors. Sophie makes increasingly bad decisions which are quite frankly absurd, the plot of the novel spiralling endlessly out of control as a chain of silly mistakes are established. The images which were produced were so ridiculous in many cases that the novel actually became incredibly humorous when examined in such close proximity to a woman of Sophie’s standing. I just could not believe that any person, let alone a woman, would make such decisions, meaning that the whole novel read as quite unrealistic. On the other hand, this very ridiculousness actually made it compelling in parts, drawing me on in comedic disbelief as I waited to see how much more ludicrous the overarching plot could become. Perhaps creating a humour crime novel was the authors intention, something I don’t really believe, but even so I did not feel that the novel itself was that funny, only producing smirks because of its farfetched nature.
What I will say is that Jo Spain had it spot on; this author’s writing is ‘perfectly paced’. She moved the novel along quite quickly, with the focus being very much on the story itself as opposed to character development. This works well for the type of novel it is, and the author created a speed which was well suited to Sophie actions. As Sophie becomes increasingly desperate and makes decisions which dramatic consequences, so the author is able to reflect this sense of the frantic and chaotic, reflected well in her pacing. I also have to say that the novel did take me by surprise, with the plot taking a turn quite early on which I really had not been anticipating. This one decision completely changes the plotline of the novel, taking it away from what you might typically expect after reading the blurb. Whilst this pivotal moment was still unrealistic, it did keep me on my toes, creating quite grotesque images which juxtaposed massively with the domestic setting. If you’ve read the book you will, I think, understand what I am talking about!
Despite the majority of the pacing being well executed, the novels culmination was disappointing, feeling very rushed and artificial. Open endings, whilst frustrating, do not really bother me if they feel genuine, which I felt was lacking in this. It felt like the novel was building itself up and up to higher and ever more crazy extremes, only to suddenly stop and flat line. I didn’t feel that the ending enriched the overall novel, instead feeling very artificial, as if the author had purposefully done it to product an ‘oh wow’ moment of surprise which sadly fell short of its goal.
Despite how it might sound, I don’t think this is an awful book. The writing is average but the plot is well paced and it does make for a quick easy read. I think my main issue is that it should not be sold to someone purely on the merit of it being a thriller or psychological novel. Instead, it is much more of a cosy crime with this strange, slapstick humour. Perhaps if I had been expecting this I would have enjoyed the novel more, although I still do not think I could quite overcome the overall ridiculous direction the overarching plot takes. Whilst the main idea of the novel should be dark and quite grotesquely intriguing, the strange humour overrode this and sadly left me feeling quite disappointed.
Disclaimer – I was very kindly sent this book in exchange for a review. I will only ever post my own honest opinions, and will NOT write a favorable review in exchange for a complimentary book.