Published: 23rd July 2020
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Trigger warnings: Drug references, strong sexual references, gaslighting
It starts with a shocking accusation…
Stephanie and Patrick are recently married, with new-born twins. While Stephanie struggles with the disorienting effects of sleep deprivation, there’s one thing she knows for certain – she has everything she ever wanted.
Then a woman from his past arrives and makes a shocking accusation about his first wife. He always claimed her death was an accident – but she says it was murder.
He insists he’s innocent, that this is nothing but a blackmail attempt. But is Patrick telling the truth? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake?
How will it end?
This is a classic example of a perfectly good story that gets torn to pieces by a woefully ill-conceived ending. For the most part we have an immersive mystery which makes you want to read between the lines in search of the faintest clue about the characters and their intentions as their secrets gradually unravel, but that is small comfort as the resolution leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth.
It is a thriller that creates a somewhat tense atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust, while the concept is a good one despite possessing a lack of originality in places. There are also elements of courtroom drama and, as always with Shari Lapena, a carefully constructed narrative that looks simple on the surface but contains a multitude of hidden layers underneath.
Patrick Kilgour was at the scene in Colorado where his pregnant wife Lindsey was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning inside their stationary car while he cleared it of snow, with the death being recorded as a tragic accident. He has since moved to New York and nine years on he is now married to Stephanie and is the father of newborn twins; their continual crying leaving him deprived of sleep.
While at work one day he sees a familiar face in the form of Lindsey’s best friend Erica, with whom he previously had an extra-marital affair. After they arrange to meet, Erica accuses Patrick of murdering Lindsey and threatens to make the police in Colorado reopen the investigation into her death unless he pays a substantial amount of money.
This is the start of a blackmail campaign which sees Erica impose herself upon all aspects of Patrick’s life. She begins a relationship with his business partner Niall, and suggests that he is the father of a child she gave away years earlier. In the meantime Stephanie is convinced that her husband is as innocent as he protests, but gradually the doubts begin to creep in.
The prologue leaves the question of Patrick’s supposed guilt hanging in the air and from there that remains the book’s enduring mystery. Although some of the plot does become repetitive, it also has an addictive quality as you are made to wonder how many secrets he happens to be hiding, how long Stephanie will continue to trust him, and how far Erica will go to try and prove he is guilty.
Everything is written in the third person and the attention shifts frequently between a number of characters, serenely describing events as they happen in a way that slowly builds towards a sudden revelation. The first real twist is an effective one which I had to read twice for it to truly sink in, but then the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse with the way it ends.
Most of the characters here are unlikable, but that was not much of a problem on this occasion. Regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty, Patrick has few redeeming features, never telling the full truth about many things and always coming up with tame excuses. He could have been developed slightly more however, as the story closed without giving a full picture of the type of person he is.
Erica has just about all of the worst personality traits. She is manipulative and conniving, a total control freak who is more than willing to stoop to the lowest of depths in order to get what she wants, which is mostly large sums of money. It is impossible not to hate her, and the same goes for Niall, who is weak-minded and flawed. As for Stephanie, I really do not know what to think, but her actions towards the end seemed entirely out of character.
Shari Lapena has a very distinctive writing style and that is in evidence once again here. It consists of short, concise sentences that do not possess much in the way of literary flair, but they have a clever way of capturing the reader’s attention and edging the story along. It is not always thrilling, but in a way it can make the twists more effective when they arrive.
Sadly, that was not the case when it comes to the ending of this particular book. Once I knew what was about to happen and the direction the plot was going to take, I just despaired. It is a remarkably sudden turn of events that went against everything that had previously taken place and it did not ring true in the slightest. It was nonsensical, and ruined what had been a reasonably good plot.
Overall, this was an engaging and moderately intriguing book for nine tenths of the way, and then for some bizarre reason it all fell apart at the last due to a really poor decision by the author. That is a massive shame because there were definitely a number of positive aspects, especially the level of suspense, but the ending was such that it caused irretrievable damage.
It is just my honest opinion, but the ending made what had been a fairly decent book into a somewhat disappointing one. It was enough for me to take a whole star off my rating, at least. So frustrating!!
My rating: ⭐⭐.5