Book Talk: ‘My Lovely Wife,’ a love story
“My Lovely Wife” (2019, 374 pages in paperback) is a love story, a debut novel by Samantha Downing. I don’t usually read love stories. In fact, the last one that I read was more than 50 years ago: “Love Story,” by Erich Segal. It was a soppy tale, all the rage of the year, and the source of the even soppier declaration, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
So, why did I read this one? There’s a simple answer: It’s different. It’s the story of Tobias (at least that’s the name he uses when he’s pretending to be a deaf man), his wife Millicent (sometimes called Penny — Milli-cent, get it?), and their two children (Rory, age 14, and Jenna, age 13). Together, they’re a typical suburban family unit. He’s the tennis pro at the country club, and she’s a real estate agent. Oh, and they kill women.
Hubby’s job, other than giving tennis lessons, seems to be scouting out potential victims. Initially, it’s not clear what the criteria are, but it’s evident that some women are acceptable and others are not. Meanwhile, Millicent runs a tight ship at home, making sure that the children eat nourishing meals, do their homework, and can come to agreement on what to watch on TV on movie night. And she’s in charge of the actual killing.
The reader gathers that things are going well and the marriage between the un-named husband and Millicent is harmonious until the body of one of the dead women shows up. Hubby and Millicent know that this will bring about an investigation by the police, and a trail could lead to them. So, they come up with the brilliant idea of “bringing back Owen Oliver Riley,” a serial killer from the past who escaped prosecution because of a technicality.
Hubby writes a letter to a local TV news reporter, pretending to be Owen Oliver, never realizing the effect that the presence of a serial killer will have on people in the relatively closed community of Hidden Oaks, particularly his own daughter, Jenna. Jenna is sick with worry that she’ll be one of Owen Oliver’s victims, and Rory is busy blackmailing his father, whom he has caught sneaking out at night.
“My Lovely Wife” is a real nail biter, filled with so many twists that the reader expects the unexpected and is then surprised by the way that Ms. Downing presents it. All of her characters are well drawn, especially the four primary family members. Millicent is always right and in command of her environment; Hubby is far less secure and eager to please everyone, Jenna is caught between childhood and teenaged sophistication, and Rory is a bit too sure of himself.
This is truly a book that will make you feel uneasy, yet you won’t be able to put it down. It’s too civilized to be called horror, and too horrible to be called a murder mystery. You’ll love it.
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Jim Glynn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.