UNDERTOW by Elizabeth Heathcote
Park Road Books; 6/13/17
CBTB Rating: 3.5/5
The Verdict: light, binge-worthy psychological suspense
I didn’t mean to binge-read UNDERTOW in one sitting… but that’s exactly what ended up happening. This book is the kind that’s meant to be devoured whole: it’s fast-paced and easy to read, the kind of entertainment that keeps you glued to the pages. It’s not very serious or heavy—don’t pick this one up if you’re looking for a really twisted or dark read. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a book that’s purely entertaining and fun to devour, with red herrings and plot twists a plenty, UNDERTOW will be a great choice. This book belongs on summer reading lists alongside THE BREAKDOWN by B.A. Paris and THE CHILD by Fiona Barton.
Carmen is happily married to Tom, although she knows she will always live in the shadow of another woman—the mistress who ended his first marriage, Zena. Mercurial, mesmerizing, deeply manipulative Zena—a woman who, Carmen begins to discover, had the potential to incite the darkest of emotions in anybody. Zena, who drowned in the sea late one night.
Zena seems ever-more present, even in death, and when Carmen unknowingly stumbles on evidence that her husband has not been telling her the whole truth, she can’t shake her unease. As she discovers documents and photographs, a very different tale than the one Tom has led her to believe begins to unfold, and she finds herself increasingly isolated and paranoid. As the twisted events of that night begin to come to light, Carmen must ask herself it it’s really a truth worth knowing… even if it destroys her and the lives of the people she loves most.
UNDERTOW is just plain fun reading. It has that addictive “just one more page” quality that kept me hooked throughout—I literally read this book in one sitting! This book reminded me a lot of Gilly Macmillan or Megan Miranda’s writing: it’s lighter reading material that just moves the reader along with it. It’s neither violent nor particularly dark, but it is completely entertaining.
Domestic thrillers are clearly having a moment right now (a long moment!), and UNDERTOW will be a great choice for fans of books like BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by B.A. Paris. UNDERTOW takes the reader into the life of Carmen and Tom, a couple who seem to have it all: Tom is a successful lawyer, and Carmen is now enjoying a lifestyle that she had never known before. But Tom’s past isn’t without secrets.
The element that surprised me most about UNDERTOW - and which I actually ended up enjoying the most as well - is that Carmen actually does know a number of the secrets that her husband keeps. In that way, UNDERTOW breaks away from the typical psychological thriller mold, giving the reader a main character who has already signed up for a relationship that she knows is secret-laden. Carmen knows that Tom’s previous marriage was broken up by an affair, and she knows that her husband’s ex-lover died in an accident. What Carmen doesn’t know, however, is that there might have been foul play involved in that accident… and that her husband was suspected of committing this crime. Carmen’s knowledge of her husband’s past, and her willingness to go along with his questionable decisions at various points throughout the novel, give the reader a fresh twist on domestic suspense. Granted, Carmen isn’t always the most likable, but she’s definitely interesting.
UNDERTOW does a good job of pulling the reader along as Carmen becomes increasingly manic and obsessed with the death of her husband’s former lover. Carmen pursues the truth with the dogged determination of someone who’s becoming just a bit unhinged, and I was totally swept up in her investigation. Once again: this isn’t necessarily the most dark or twisted portrayal of this kind of obsession, but it’s completely entertaining and engrossing nonetheless. The more Carmen learned about her husband and his past, the more hooked I was on this story. There’s something just plain fun about Heathcote’s writing, and I was totally along for the ride in UNDERTOW.
One note: if the first chapter of the book seems slow-paced to you, don’t worry—that chapter is just setting the stage for the addictive plot that’s to come.
All in all, I would be confident in recommending UNDERTOW to readers of Gilly Macmillan, B.A. Paris, and Megan Miranda. It's fast-paced, fun, and totally addictive, but not necessarily the most thought-provoking or chilling thriller. To sum it up...
DO NOT buy this book if: you’re looking for in-depth, dark, twisted psychological suspense. This book will be too lightweight for you.
DO buy this book if: you’re looking for a domestic thriller that’s purely entertaining and easy to binge-read. If this sounds like something that's up your alley, UNDERTOW belongs on your summer reading list.
UNDERTOW by Elizabeth Heathcote
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Park Row Books (June 13, 2017)
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