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The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd: A Tale of Dangerous Obsession

Do you ever find yourself feeling you want to shout STOP at a character in a novel? I do occasionally when I notice the character about to make a decision or take an action that I know will lead to danger, heartbreak or tragedy.

Cover of The Innocent Wife, a psychological thriller by Amy Lloyd

I reached that point 16 pages into The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd. This is the moment in the narrative when an English schoolteacher’s fascination with a man on Death Row in America, crashes through the borderline with obsession.

Sam has been following his case for months, eagerly participating in online message boards and forums arguing Dennis Danson is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. She scrutinises every piece of evidence described in Framing The Truth, a TV documentary about the case. Then she writes directly to Dennis and is quickly won over by the charm and kindness of his reply.

Suddenly she’s declaring her love for him and hopping on a plane to visit him. Why? Essentially because she has little else going on in her life. She’s 31 years old, adrift in her job and recently broke up with her boyfriend. “It’s time,” says decides. ” for me to stop wasting my whole life wishing for things and actually do them.”

I know people do write to prison inmates even though they are complete strangers. There are even organisations like WriteAPrisoner to support this kind of penpal arrangement. But I’ve never heard of people flying thousands of miles to meet their partner prisoner in person.

Sam wilfully ignored my instruction to STOP. The stupid woman carried on disregarding the warning signs and said yes when this guy she barely knows pops the question. So there she is, wife of a guy in jail for the murder of one young girl and suspected of killing several others. Hardly the start of a wonderful marriage is it?

But Sam’s so naive that when Dennis does get released, she’s all a flutter, imagining this idyllic life together. Except you and I know it’s going to be anything like idyllic. He’s a non-smoking, health freak, superfit, meticulously tidy and jaw-droppingly handsome. She’s overweight, smokes, loves fast food and leaves a trail of discarded clothes and magazines in her hotel room.

They have little in common. She imagines the bliss of being wrapped in his arms. He doesn’t even want to share the same bed. Of course this is all heading for a disaster. We all know the signs and even Sam begins to get suspicious and afraid for her own suspicions. But Amy Lloyd cleverly keeps us in suspense about whether those suspicions are well founded and it’s not until the final 10 pages or so that we discover the truth.

Sam is a character for whom I had no empathy whatsoever yet I had to keep reading the book to find out whether my prognosis of disaster was misjudged or Amy Lloyd had been pulling the wool over my eyes all along. And that’s really the mark of a good thriller isn’t it? We keep reading even when the scenario is highly improbable and the characters disagreeable.

The novel does get rather draggy at times. I got tired of Sam’s expressions of physical desire for this guy and her frustration when he turns his back on her. I also got tired of the way she hangs about in hotel rooms doing nothing while he’s off to the gym, out running or hitting the keys on his laptop to write his memoirs.

There was an element of the story which didn’t ring true al all. We’re led to believe that Sam is being manipulated by Denis but there was little evidence of coercion. He snaps at her, is demanding about what they eat and where they go but generally shows little interest in her. It was hard to accept that she feels completely dependent on him and just goes along with whatever he wants.

But I did enjoy Amy Lloyd’s portrayal of the media and public frenzy that follows Dennis’ release. Money comes pouring in, as do freebie supplies of clothes and goodies from people who want ride the bandwagon. Media outlets hassle to be the first to get Dennis on their shows. Filming gets underway for a new documentary; there’s talk of a Hollywood premier. And then it all comes crashing down after one disastrous interview. That reversal of fortune felt such an accurate portrayal of the way heroes can so quickly become villains in today’s media and social media cycles.

Though I’m not a great fan of thrillers and I wouldn’t rate The Innocent Wife as one of the best, it did keep me entertained and distracted me from the crisis in which we find ourselves in the real world this year.

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd: Endnotes

About The Book: The Innocent Wife was published by Arrow, an imprint of Penguin Books in 2018. It won the Daily Mail’s first novel contest 

About the Author: Amy Lloyd is from Wales. She studied English and Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University. The Innocent Wife, her debut novel, became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Amy lives in Cardiff with her partner, who is also a published novelist. Her second novel One More Lie was published in 2019.

Six Stunning Must Read Books of 2019

We’ve reached the mid point of 2019. It’s a good time to take a pause and reflect. 

A time to ask yourselves some questions. Have you:

  • kept up with your challenges and projects?
  • nailed that TBR stack?
  • found any knock out, truly brilliant books?

My answers to the above are, in order, partly,  no  and  YES.

I won’t bore you with how much I’m behind on my projects to read my classics club list or the Booker prize winners.   And I’ve already confessed about the rising state of my TBR.

Let’s talk about something far more interesting: six books I’ve read so far this year that were stunning. There’s  a psychological thriller, a classic novel, two memoirs  and two literary fiction titles.

Milkman by Anna Burns 

After a few years when the winning novel in the Booker Prize didn’t set my world alight, in 2018 we finally got a book that absolutely deserved the prize. Milkman by Anna Burns is an intense and powerful novel about trying to survive in a city where to be different, is to be in danger. The unconventional narrative form (no character is ever named) takes a little getting used to but don’t give up. If you do you’ll miss one of the most compelling novels I’ve read in years.

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell 

Gaskell wasn’t alone among Victorian novelists in her anguish about the plight of workers in the newly industrialised cities. Like Dickens she wrote about their appalling living conditions, sickness and hunger. Mary Barton was her first novel and it’s a no holds barred tale about industrial strife in Manchester. This is a must-read novel for anyone interested in social issues.

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage 

Vanessa Savage’s debut novel is a spectacular psychological thriller. The Woman in the Dark is a  tale of a family’s descent into crisis when they move into a house whose previous  occupants were murdered. Within this she spins a disturbing narrative about the legacy of child abuse. Just one warning before you begin reading this: you’ll lose lots of sleep because you won’t be able to put it down .

The Salt Path  by Raynor Winn

Imagine you’ve lost your home and your business. You have nothing but a few hundred pounds in your savings. Your husband has just been diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition. Faced with that situation Raynor Winn decided to take a walk. Rather a long walk. Six hundred miles in fact. The Salt Path is her account of walking the coastal path, camping wild and encountering hostility because strangers thought they were untouchable homeless vagrants.  This is a memoir that can make you angry but it will also make you laugh because Winn has a wonderful eye for the absurd situations in life.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Adam Kay was a hospital doctor specialising in obstetrics for six years and kept a diary of his time on the front line of healthcare. This is Going to Hurt is  astonishingly funny but also sobering because Kay shows how poorly junior doctors are treated. Underpaid and expected to work well beyond their contracted  hours, the job puts a strain on friendships and relationships. This is an astonishingly frank novel but despite his criticisms, Kay is still a firm believer in the principles of public healthcare.

Circe  by Madeline Miller 

This was a book I wasn’t looking forward to reading. I did so only because it was selected by the other book club members.  But this re-imagining of Circe (the Greek sorceress who gets a brief mention in Homer’s Odyssey) was a revelation. Miller’s descriptions of the world inhabited by the Titans among the Greek gods is breathtaking. If you’ve not yet read this, do yourself a huge favour and go out now and buy a copy. You won’t be sorry.


Those are my six choices for the first half of 2019. It will be interesting to see if any of them still make the cut when I come to the end of the year.

What would you choose from your own reading so far this year? Any knock out reads for you?

Spectacular Thriller In House of Slaughter: The Woman In The Dark by Vanessa Savage [bookreview]

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage

The Woman in the Dark should be sold with a health warning emblazoned across its cover.

WomanInTheDark

Readers deserve to be cautioned that it’s such an addictive novel they will want to sacrifice domestic chores and forgo sleep until they reach the final pages.

As you’d expect with a thriller,  it has a cracking pace and oodles of twists and turns. But Vanessa Savage has done something far more interesting than simply trotting out the standard elements of the genre. Within her chillingly dark tale of a family in crisis, she spins a disturbing narrative about the legacy of child abuse.

The Woman in the Dark begins on a day that seems just an ordinary one for a rather ordinary family.  But the tensions become quickly apparent. Mum Sarah is suffering from a deep depression as a result of her mother’s death. She’s taken to drink to help dull the pain but her cocktail of alcohol and anti depressant tablets leave her feeling spaced out and unable to function. They need a fresh start according to her loving and caring husband Patrick.

So he persuades her to move home, to buy the Victorian beachfront house in which he grew up. It’s the ideal spot in which to raise their two teenage children Joe and Mia, he argues.

Conveniently he overlooks the fact that this house is where a brutal double murder took place 15 years ago. The Murder House, as the locals call it, is now a dilapidated shell of its former self.  Patrick is convinced they can make it as perfect a home as it was in his childhood. No-one else in the family shares his optimism for the peeling paint, rattling windowpanes and unexplained cold spots in some rooms.

And that’s before they are even aware of the creepy messages on the cellar wall.

From these elements Vanessa Savage has created an intense and deeply disturbing novel about lies, secrets and buried tensions.

No-one comes out of this intact.  Certainly not Sarah who becomes obsessed by the murder and perturbed by what she discovers about Patrick’s past. Definitely not Patrick whose moods swing from concern for Sarah’s wellbeing to uncontrollable anger. Nor their children who suffer nightmares and physical trauma as their parents’ marriage disintegrates.

This is a novel in which nothing – and no-one – can be trusted. Is Sarah right to imagine the house is a malevolent force? Does she have good reason to suspect Patrick is a threat to her and her children? The only version of events we hear is Sarah’s and given her propensity to become confused and muddled, the problems could all be in her mind.

The Woman in the Dark is a spectacularly strong debut novel.

Vanessa Savage writes with such confidence that you quickly overcome doubts that any sane adult would want to live in a house whose previous occupants were slaughtered.  It’s not a book to enjoy (unless you like to revel in other people’s misery) but it’s certainly one in which you can become engrossed.


 

Vanessa SavageAbout the book

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage was published in January 2019 by Sphere in the UK and by Grand Central Publishing in the USA.

About the Author 

Vanessa Savage trained as a graphic designer and illustrator. She lives with her family in South Wales (just down the road from me I just discovered 🙂 She has won the Myriad Editions First Crimes competition and was shortlisted for the Caledonia Fiction Prize.

Look out for an interview with Vanessa when she joins me in Cwtch Corner next month.

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