Dennis Danson is a killer. A cruel, sadistic monster who needs to be locked away. He’s in prison for the murder of one girl, and everyone knows he killed several others. Everyone except Samantha.
Samantha (Sam) knows he’s innocent. He’s kind, and caring and understanding; there’s no way he could be the monster that everyone thinks he is. She writes him letter after letter, falling in love and feeling secure for the first time. When he proposes, she travels to America to marry him in prison. They never touch.
But then Dennis gets released. A campaign that never held out much hope suddenly starts working, and quickly. Dennis is out of prison, vindicated, and Sam can be as close to him as she wants. But now that she’s as close as she can be, she starts to think that maybe he belongs back inside.
The plot here is a hard one to summarise, and then it sounds like I’m giving away the ending. It’s more complex than that – the initial parts of the novel are set-up, showing Samantha and Dennis’ evolving relationship. It’s not until Dennis is released that the meat of the novel appears – Samantha’s doubts and fears as she starts to learn more about the man she married.
I thought this was very well-written. The subject matter is miserable and uncomfortable, and that comes across very strongly through the prose. Sam is especially convincing as someone struggling with love, doubt, and self-confidence. If I had to make a comparison, the closest book would be Schriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin. Both books are uncomfortable to read, but well-realised and compelling.
The book is filled with pop-culture references and mentions of modern technology. On one level, it adds to the realism; books set in the real modern world in which the characters never use or mention ubiquitous technology always sound a little off. However, it also dates the novel, and that’s less positive. Pinning a book too closely to a current fad or social trend lessens its applicability dramatically and harms the flow.
The Innocent Wife‘s strong point is Sam. The story is told in extremely close third person, and Samantha’s thoughts and suspicions are the main draw. The book is at its best when everything is nebulous, when nothing is happening but Sam’s mind is in overdrive. The final section of the book is the weakest one, when the focus shifts from murky psychological threats to a more immediate and action-heavy one. There’s a loss of focus there, though in psychological thrillers, that might be unavoidable.
I felt this was a strong novel, dealing with complex ideas in a clever way. It’s not a happy one, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who reads crime for the neat wrap-up at the end. But if you want something tormented and thought-provoking, this fits the bill.
In the interests of transparency, I am compelled to mention that I received a copy of The Innocent Wife through NetGalley.com