Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Not all real-life crime stories have neat, clear solutions. Sometimes, what really happened depends on one’s perspective, and even when that’s not the case, there’s sometimes quite a lot of ambiguity about real-life crime. That’s the case with some crime fiction stories too. To get a sense of what I mean, let’s turn the spotlight today on A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife.
Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert are a successful Chicago couple. Jodi is a psychotherapist, and Todd is a developer. They’ve been together for twenty years and Jodi at least considers them as good as married. They seem to have a happy relationship too.
Then everything changes. Todd has an affair with Natasha Kovacs, the daughter of his best friend Dean Kovacs. He’s strayed before and Jodi’s dealt with it. But this time things are quite different: Natasha finds that she’s pregnant. She wants to marry Todd, keep the baby and be a family and Todd promises her that’s what he wants too.
For Jodi, the humiliation of finding out about Todd’s plans is compounded because he isn’t honest with her. In fact, he’s trying to keep his options open if I can put it that way. Jodi doesn’t discover what Todd is planning to do until she gets an eviction letter from Todd’s attorney, ordering her to vacate their home. Jodi seeks out her own legal counsel, and her attorney gives her the bad news that in Illinois, there is no common-law marriage. So Jodi has no legal claim to any of Todd’s assets or to their home. Meanwhile, Todd’s attorney is working to protect his client’s interests. Jodi becomes increasingly withdrawn as her options seem to become fewer and fewer.
Things aren’t any easier for Todd, who finds that his relationship with Natasha isn’t working out the way he’d planned. For one thing, he’s lost his best friend over the matter. For another, Natasha has a very different idea of what their lives ought to be like. And although his relationship with Jodi isn’t what it was, Todd finds himself missing her.
Then, Todd is murdered in a drive-by shooting. At first it looks as though it was a straightforward carjacking or robbery gone wrong. But it’s not long before the police begin to wonder if that’s true. It turns out that someone hired Todd’s killer, and more than one person (including Jodi, Dean, and Natasha) had a motive.
This story is told from both Jodi’s and Todd’s perspectives. Readers who prefer just one point of view will be disappointed. But the use of two perspectives gives the reader a more complete picture of their relationship. More than that, we see how each of them uses self-deception and other-deception as they deal with the breakup of their relationship and what happens afterwards. What’s especially interesting that because each of them sees the events differently, readers look at what happens in the novel as through a prism, from several different angles.
Deception and self-deception turn out to be important elements in this novel too. Neither Jodi nor Todd is completely honest with the other. Even more interesting, they deceive themselves too. Jodi doesn’t really see the role her past plays in her life, and how she has contributed to the breakup of the relationship. And she deceives herself about Todd’s feelings for her. Todd doesn’t see the impact of his past either, and when his relationship with Natasha becomes strained, he doesn’t accept his share of responsibility for what happens. Because of all of this deception and self-deception, we can’t say that either character is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ And each has ‘baggage’ from the past that complicates their life together. All of this makes for some complex characters.
Another element in this novel is the choices that we make and the consequences of those choices. Both Todd and Jodi make certain choices that have unexpected consequences. As readers, we see what those consequences will be, and that adds to the suspense as we watch them play out.
As you might have guessed, this is a character-driven story rather than one that focuses mostly on the crime plot. Readers who prefer the more traditional kind of story where the plot gets the most attention will be disappointed. That said though, we get to know the two characters quite well as the story evolves. We learn about their pasts, how they met, how they interact and so on as various layers of the story peel away. Through that strategy, Harrison invites the reader to get past the layers of deception and find out the truth.
The pace of the story is slower than it is in, say, a thriller or even a traditional whodunit. And parts of the story are told in flashback format. Readers who prefer a linear story told at a traditional, brisk pace will notice this. Readers who like a more leisurely story that shows the unfolding of a character will appreciate it.
Because this is a character-driven story, the focus is not as much on the murder of Todd Gilbert as it is on Todd’s and Jodi’s lives before the murder and Jodi’s after it. Without giving away spoilers, I think I can also say that the mystery itself doesn’t have a clear-cut explanation. There’s some ambiguity in the story, part of which stems from the fact that it’s told from different perspectives. Who is really seeing things clearly, if either character is?
The Silent Wife is the story of the way people’s pasts affect their adult selves, and the way self-perceptions, other-perceptions and deception can distort the truth. It’s also the story of people caught, if you will, in webs of their own making, sometimes with tragic results. But what’s your view? Have you read The Silent Wife? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 16 December/Tuesday 17 December – Death of a Red Heroine – Qiu Xiaolong
Monday 23 December/Tuesday 24 December – Dead of Winter – P.J. Parrish
Monday 30 December/Tuesday 31 December – The Holiday Murders – Robert Gott