The last thing I expected from a thriller about a vengeful wife was to be taken on a nostalgic road journey through the American great outdoors. But through Wilderness I re-lived magical holidays from years past when I visited Monument Valley, Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Unlike the main character Olivia (Liv), however, I wasn’t constantly thinking about pushing my husband over a canyon rim or sending him tumbling down Yosemite’s Half Dome. Not even when Mr Booker Talk ignored my directions and took us off on detours.
In Wilderness ,Liv and Will Taylor set out on a 1,500 miles road trip across four states to try and repair their marriage. He’s contrite about an affair with a stunning PR executive for a hotel chain, promising his wife that he’s knocked it on the head. The trip will be a chance, he thinks, to put all that behind them and to recapture the romance in the marriage.
But Liv is in no mood for forgiveness. She has her own plan for the holiday, one that requires Will to pass three tests, three opportunities to prove he is truly repentant. He has to surprise his wife with a thoughtful romantic gesture, be spontaneous and seize a sense of occasion and finally to stay calm and look after Liv if things go wrong.
And if he doesn’t? Liv has done her research and knows that America’s national parks can be dangerous places. All it would take is a nudge or a stage-managed trip and Will would become just another statistic in the parks’ annual toll of deaths by falls, slips, drownings and dehydration.
The plot of Wilderness switches back and forth between the trip itself and the events that led to Liv feeling utterly betrayed. To say she is hell bent on revenge is an understatement — this woman is spitting fire. But she’s also human and her actions to bring down the “skinny, skank-whore years younger than me” do take their toll, her courage to persist coming from large quantities of Jack Daniels whisky.
She elicits our sympathy even as we watch her actions spiral from stalking Will’s paramour to spiking her drinks, sending her nasty text messages and leaving compromising photographs in her work place.
This is a carefully plotted and well-paced novel that has a strong central character. Will the husband and some of the other characters are not as fully formed but they’re there really more as a foil to Liv. She’s the one through whose eyes we witness every situation and development.
Wilderness is certainly an intense read. If you need some relief from the tension, at the back of the book there’s a play list of tracks that the author listened to while sending her central character on the Great American Road Trip. Chemical Brothers accompany the Monument Valley chapters, Stereophonics get their turn at the Grand Canyon and U2 blast their way from Yosemite to Death Valley.
Or you can discover how B E Jones gained inspiration for the book during her own holiday adventures hiking among majestic mountains and canyons. Standing on the rim of one canyon she began to imagine how someone with murderous intent might act in a moment of madness. I think if I were her partner, I’d be rather nervous what the was thinking of when I was just enjoying the scenery.
Wilderness by B E Jones: Footnotes
As a former print and broadcast journalist and police press officer, B. E Jones is familiar with the world of crime and the darker side of human nature. She has published six novels, all psychological thrillers available in paperback or e-format. Wilderness was published by Constable, an imprint of Little Brown in 2019. B.E Jones currently lives in South Wales.