You've been married for a decade and a half, the kids are in high school, you're pretty established in your careers, middle age is around the corner -- how do you keep the spark in your marriage alive (or reignite it)? There are dozens -- probably hundreds -- of suggestions out there, but probably none quite so . . . homicidal? The couple at the center of My Lovely Wife murders women -- an idea so out there, I can't imagine there's enough wine in the world to get Kathy Lee and Hoda to promote.
They pick the victims together, he goes out and gets the women into a vulnerable situation and then she takes over while he spends time with the kids. This is an over-simplification, but not by much. This joint-project does seem to bring them together, giving them a common goal, something to talk about -- it even seems to rekindle the romance. Sometimes their interaction is pretty sweet -- sometimes, it's a little sad. But at the core, you can see these two featuring in a very different kind of novel if only they had a different . . . activity to bond over.
Meanwhile, their son is acting defiant toward his father's authority and is sneaking around with a girl. Their daughter is becoming more and more anxious -- a media-induced anxiety disorder of some sort. While they're dealing with the difficulties of parenting adolescents, they're focused on their next target and evading the police. You have to feel for them as parents, really. They're doing everything they should and you just can't tell if the children will respond the way they hope. It's a clear sign of their dedication to each other that they keep going.
It's a great premise, really -- and that alone is going to earn it some accolades. Downing does a pretty good job delivering on the promise of it, too. But after the original "What??" moment (which wasn't that much of a surprise if you've read the blurb, but was still skillfully executed), I waited a long time to truly get hooked by this story. I kept feeling like I was alllllllllmost hooked, but I never got past the mildly curious level. I kept waiting for the hook, expecting it, wanting it -- but it just didn't come. Until some time in the last fifth of the book -- and then even though I'd seen two of the big reveals coming, I hadn't seen the reasoning behind the most important one. Also, Downing absolutely nailed the climactic portions of this book -- all the dominoes she'd spent the whole novel setting up came down just as designed and were absolutely riveting to watch.
I want to complain about how long it took for me to really get hooked, to get invested in the outcome of the book -- and I guess I am -- but it was all worth it. I do think it's dangerous to hope that an audience will stick without you that long -- but seeing the design and how she set it all up, I just don't know how to quibble that much. Because the pay off was just that well done.
This isn't your typical story about killers -- it's not over the top and funny, it's not dark and moody, it feels like a book about a fairly stable couple living in the nice part of Atlanta. Which is what the book is, but this couple has some pretty horrible secrets to explore. While it didn't click for me until the very end, I can easily see where many people are going to love this book. Downing is a writer to watch, and I know I'll be eagerly waiting for whatever comes next.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this, but it did not affect the substance of this post beyond giving me something upon which to opine.