Friday, 10 June 2016

Toxic Marriages: My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry

 
published 2016



 
My Husband's Wife
 


[Lily, a solicitor, is visiting a prisoner in jail: she is handling his appeal]

There’s a polite cough behind us. A tall well-built dark-haired man... is standing at the door of the office. He was one of those waiting in the corridor, I realize. But instead of staring, he is smiling thinly. His hand is extended. His handshake squeezes my knuckles. This is a practised salesman, I remind myself.

Yet he doesn’t look like an archetypal prisoner, or, at least, not the type I’d imagined. There are no obvious tattoos, unlike the prison officer beside me, who is sporting a red and blue dragon’s head on his arm. My new client is wearing an expensive-looking watch and polished brown brogues which stand out among the other men’s trainers and are at odds with his green prison uniform. I get the feeling that this is a man who is more used to a jacket and tie.


commentary: This is a good honest holiday thriller, perfect for a long journey or a beach. It follows Lily and Carla from around 2000 to the present day, with some dips back into Lily’s childhood. We know from the beginning that someone is dead, stabbed. Lily and her husband were newly-weds when they met Carla, a neighbour’s child. Lily gets involved in Carla’s life, and also gets involved in a complex legal case. The consequences are going to follow all of them for all the intervening years. Both the main female characters are intriguing and carefully drawn, with all their faults and problems. And nobody is perfect, no-one as good as gold. There aren’t any great shocks or surprises in the book, but it has a good, twisty, unpredictable plot.

I though the early parts were a bit odd – as if they were taking place in no-time, or 20-25 years earlier. There is little in the way of computers or mobile phones, (this is 2000 remember) and the behaviour of the nuns and the RC community is bizarre in the extreme. The Catholic church has its faults, but I refuse to believe in a school where you will be expelled for being illegitimate. One of the nuns has some very inaccurate claims about the theology of redemption, and it is impossible to believe that an Italian family could be tracked down in the way described, with the information available.

And can I suggest that making a decision based on whether a magazine falls open at an odd or even page is not something that works? Every spread has two pages, and the odd number is always on the right and the even on the left, so, you know, not really picturing this as a big tense moment with a surprising outcome…

But other parts of the book rang with authenticity – there were sombre and believable accounts of trying to deal with special needs children, and some of the legal cases and the visits to the prison were full of great details. On the way in, Lily is asked if she has ‘sugar, Sellotape, crisps, sharp implements?’ in her briefcase, and is told:
‘They can use sugar to make hooch, Sellotape to gag you. And crisps to bribe them. It’s happened before, trust me.’
The husband causes problems in this book, in various ways: this is just the latest in a collection of books about
 

toxic marriages

- which is surely THE thriller subject of our times.

I have also recently read Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris - again, you are guessing about a difficult marriage. It is quite short and tight and very atmospheric, and you can read it in one compelling sitting. Afterwards, a hundred questions and objections arise, but it certainly does its job while you are reading, and I would recommend it highly for anyone looking for a holiday read.

So do these books mean we have no faith in marriage these days, or that we want to make our own relationships look good in comparison? Or are publishers and writers just choosing a topic that they know sells at the moment?

Three of the big bestsellers of recent years have been SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Paula Hawkins’ Girl on a Train. On the blog I have also looked at Fiona Barton’s The Widow earlier this year (you can tell from the name…) and Alafair Burke’s The Ex. All perfectly decent books, but none of them would give you a good idea of marriage.

And that isn’t the half of it – I am constantly seeing other similarly plotted books, or being offered them by publishers. By now they can sound rather same-y: I expect the world will move on to another popular topic for gripping thrillers.

I’d love to hear other’s views – why so many fictional toxic marriages? Any books that you would recommend? And, what’s the next big crime theme going to be?

The picture, from the Missouri State Archives, shows a convicted murderer from the 1920s, Ernest McCormack.



















16 comments:

  1. Right you are, Moira, about the popularity of toxic marriages in current crime fiction! Yikes! As to this particular novel, I have been hearing a lot of good things about it. As you point out, people do notice when books have either blatant inaccuracies or too much that stretches credibility. It all depends, I suppose, on how much one's willing to forgive. In any case, I'm glad you found some things to like about this.

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    1. Thanks Margot, and this certainly worked as a page-turner. And the question of the marriages will linger in my head, I'm sure I'll be clocking up some more books before the fashions change. I'm sure there's a blogpost for you in there somewhere...

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  2. There does seem to have been a glut of EvilSpouse novels in recent years, although if I remember correctly there were a glut of EvilKid novels at one point. Part of if it is probably an example of that old saying--"Everyone wants to be first to be second". Being first can be exhilirating, but it's pretty risky, and much better if someone has trod the ground beforehand and discovered that it's a popular subject. It's like the way that armies in WWI used to drive sheep across minefields in order to clear them.

    It does seem to be the case that most love stories are about the chase rather than afterwards. Falling in love is sexy and fun, full of misunderstandings and heartbreak, whilst afterwards is either a comfortable coma, or else a case of 'Had I but known...'. It's quite something to realise that back in the '30s Nick & Nora Charles were seen as groundbreaking because they were an example of a sophisticated couple who enjoyed one anothers company. Since then there have been a number of married crimesolvers. Apparently the best way to keep ones marriage lively is to solve murders together, although I can't help thinking that there must be an easier way.

    What is next? Murderous Mothers-in-Law is a bit too Les Dawson, Murderous Uncle has already been done by Hitchcock, and Murderous Nephews/Cousins have been the stuff of crime novels for decades. Now that same-sex marriage has become commonplace, I'm waiting for someone to do a same-sex crimebusting couple. When Sue Perkins did her own sitcom I was baffled that she decided to play a Lesbian Vet, when the obvious course was to have her as one half of a pair of Lesbian Stand Up Comics who solve mysteries in their spare time. I'm quite serious. She's very popular, and everyone loves a crime show. Look at how David Renwick, who is better known as a comic writer, teamed up with Alan Davies, who is better known as a Stand Up, in JONATHAN CREEK. It will just take either the correct author, or else the correct casting on TV or the Movies and this well be the next big thing.

    The thing you say about the treatment of RC in the novel is interesting. Popular culture tends to portray RC Priests and Nuns as sadists/perverts, but although I have problems with aspects of the religion, the RC Priests and Nuns that I've known couldn't have been nicer. Those misery memoirs from a few years back have obviously had an influence.

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    1. This is such a great going-over of the subject, Gary, love your insights, and yes - same-sex pairing is the way forward, and of course you are right about Sue Perkins..
      I honestly think some writers think the Catholic church is an easy target nowadays - and it's hard to defend, because so many atrocious and unforgiveable things did happen. But when they put completely rubbish-y non-theological views into the mouths of priests it is just as bad as any other factual mistake..

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  3. I had not noticed the proliferation of toxic marriages in recent thrillers, probably because I don't gravitate towards newer books. I have no theory about why it would be a topic now, I am sure marriages are no better or worse than earlier years. Dysfunctional families (larger groups) often interest me.

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    1. I can see that Tracy - it's a whole segment of the market that isn't your thing. You weren't even tempted by Gone Girl? I agree with you that marriages are no different. And there was a lot of lack of trust in past books - but I think perhaps what is new is equal-opportunity mistrust: both male and female might be the baddy - or it might be both of them.

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    2. Tempted by the movie of Gone Girl, not the book. Although that would be more Glen than me. If we did not already have many many unwatched DVDs we would have watched it I am sure. Same for Girl on a Train. The movie will star Emily Blunt, a favorite. We will watch that on DVD once available or streaming. And it has Allison Janney too, a plus.

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    3. Oh yes, Janney is always good. I haven't watched the Gone Girl movie myself, but do intend to one of these days... I love Rosamund Pike.

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  4. Could it just be that a 'toxic' marriage (or any other relationship) makes for a more interesting book for writer and reader, with plenty of dramatic tension? It's like the saying about the devil having all the best tunes. And it doesn't just apply to crime fiction - think of Milton's Paradise Lost, where Satan is the stand-out character you remember, far more so than than God or any of the angels. And what about villains who are more attractive than heroes, or the 'bad girls' of fiction, like Lizzie Eustace or Becky Sharp (who is much more interesting than soppy Amelia).

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    1. Oh indeed, I agree with all you say. I think the slightly different thing about these books is not having an obvious goody/baddie split, the idea that both might be untrustworthy. But yes - bad girls AND bad boys are always attractive. And more interesting.

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  5. I just read Where'd You Go, Bernadette as a sort of palate-cleanser between crime novels, and while there were problems in Bernadette's marriage, it didn't veer into the toxic marriage plot I've seen in lots of current books. It's also damn funny.

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    1. Oh I loved that book. I thought it was clever and funny, as well as being a painfully truthful portrait of a certain life in Seattle which I once shared. I have just got hold of an advance copy of Semple's next book, and very much looking forward to it.

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    2. I hope it's great! I tend to have high expectations when a writer takes her time to write a follow-up. And I never knew you lived in Seattle! I'm a Midwesterner, but I have a sister and dear friends in Seattle, and I love visiting.

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    3. I know - you're longing for it to be good, and dreading that it might not be. Yes - happy years in Seattle, a fab place.

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  6. Replies
    1. More noir-ish than you'd think, but you're probably better off not getting any more books.

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