BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward
Park Row; 3/5/19
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: domestic suspense meets globe-trotting thriller
No matter how many domestic suspense novels you’ve read, chances are you haven’t read one quite like BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward. Intimate yet expansive, BEAUTIFUL BAD takes readers into the most private secrets of a troubled marriage via pit stops in that same married couple’s history. Traveling from the Balkans to England to post-9/11 New York, BEAUTIFUL BAD draws readers into a story epic in scope, but decidedly personal at its core. This suspense novel has all the hallmarks of your favorite domestic thriller: a marriage with a dark side, a cast of unreliable characters, and some engaging, page-turning twists along the way. But what makes me particularly glad to have read this book is the authenticity that fills its every page. BEAUTIFUL BAD is based on the real-life experiences of its author, and the author’s closeness to the material is evident here in the best possible way. Ward writes with sensitivity about topics including PTSD, the complexities of friendship, and the pressures and challenges of marriage and motherhood—not to mention the utterly compelling portrait she paints of the world as seen through her protagonist’s eyes. BEAUTIFUL BAD is a multifaceted suspense novel brimming with energy, emotion, and entertainment value. Highly recommended for readers who want complex yet binge-worthy domestic suspense.
Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me.
Maddie and Ian’s love story began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.
One of my foremost priorities with every review I write here on CBTB is to provide you, the reader, with an accurate set of expectations for the book I’m discussing. Let me preface this whole review by saying… that is no easy feat for BEAUTIFUL BAD, but, in this case, that may be all the more reason to pick up this book. Is BEAUTIFUL BAD a domestic thriller? Yes, it is. Is it a globe-trotting review of pivotal moments in international and American history? Yes, it’s certainly that too. Is it a travelogue? An exploration of mental health and the personal ramifications of war? A love story? Yes, yes, yes. It’s a big, explosive novel, but it’s a heartfelt and highly personal one, too—and perhaps most importantly, it’s a novel with lots of disparate parts that work beautifully together. BEAUTIFUL BAD is a story of love tested by war, violence, time, and the strains of the very ordinary. And, of course, it’s a story of a murder.
Readers will encounter three core timelines in BEAUTIFUL BAD: the past, following protagonist Maddie as she works in the Balkans and meets Ian for the first time; what I will call the “near present,” a timeline that begins a few months prior to the story’s pivotal event, and brings readers up to speed on a week-by-week basis; and the “Day of the Killing,” or the present day - the timeline in which a shocking murder rocks a sleepy town in Middle America. If this plot structure sounds confusing, don’t worry. Author Annie Ward skillfully weaves her tale through these varying perspectives, never once dropping a thread or allowing readers to feel lost. This book would be impressive just for the deftness with which the author manages this plot structure—but the content found within these threads ups the ante even more.
In the past, readers witness the progression of Maddie and Ian’s relationship. A chance encounter brings the two together, and readers will follow the ups and downs of their friendship-turned-love over the years, as it spans continents and bridges massive divides. In the past, readers also meet Jo, the enigmatic and free-spirited best friend in Maddie’s life, and witness the complexity of the relationship these two women share. The past is also the story’s most globe-trotting plotline; readers will experience new worlds through Ward’s vivid and immersive writing. BEAUTIFUL BAD’s “near present” might just be my favorite storyline of all. In this thread, readers meet Maddie in her adult life. She and Ian are now married, and are parents to a beautiful son, Charlie. But something isn’t quite right. Maddie is plagued by anxiety and fear, and she seeks help through writing therapy. But the more Maddie writes, the more her secrets threaten to surface, and the more readers see behind the peaceful, picture-perfect facade she is projecting. And then we get to the story’s pivotal timeline: the “Day of the Killing.” A murder has been committed in a quiet suburban home. Police are called to the scene. The home is drenched in blood, and there’s evidence that a young child is somewhere in the house. Who is the victim, and who has committed this heinous crime? For the majority of BEAUTIFUL BAD, the Day of the Killing is shrouded in mystery—but when Ward finally pulls back the curtains, readers will be floored by the revelations she has in store. And throughout all these storylines, readers will slowly but surely build up a clear image of Maddie, Ian, and Jo: three friends whose paths cross, diverge, and cross again to deadly end.
BEAUTIFUL BAD is certainly full of revelations and surprises, but I wouldn’t personally characterize this thriller as “twisty.” Yes, it has some twists (in particular towards the story’s end), but these moments are occasionally predictable, and simply are not where Ward shines most. To that end, if what you’re looking for is a psychological thriller with major, shocking plot twists, you may not be the target audience for this book - but I don’t mean that as a negative at all. Ward is at her best when writing the emotional and psychological baggage that her characters carry with them every day, and this emotional depth more than compensates for any plot twists that you might see coming. Both Maddie and Ian are highly damaged individuals, but readers will never feel that these characters are damaged just for effect or shock value. Ward infuses each of their stories with life, illustrating for the reader the lasting impact of trauma on the individual - and making a case for the destructive nature of war even (or perhaps especially) on an individual level. Readers’ hearts will break for Maddie and Ian, a couple whose lives are marked by the violence of war and the insidious nature of PTSD left untreated. Ward convincingly illustrates the connections between a world filled with chaos and a home that descends into paranoia and, in turn, more violence, as two individuals grappling with their own personal demons seek to keep their family safe. Reading BEAUTIFUL BAD, you really do get the sense that this story isn’t totally fiction—and that gut feeling broke my heart. Whether or not you see the twists in this story coming (and I’ll be honest, I did), Ward’s visceral and insightful writing makes for an utterly gripping read.
There is quite literally too much contained within the pages of BEAUTIFUL BAD for me to touch on all of it in a review of a reasonable length, so I will cut myself off here—but I will reiterate just how impressed I was with Ward’s debut crime novel. It would be all too easy for a book as big in scope as is BEAUTIFUL BAD to get away from its author, but Ward manages every turn of this expansive story confidently and seamlessly. Brimming with emotion and authenticity, BEAUTIFUL BAD will equal parts thrill and haunt. Pick this book up for its intricate, tragic love story gone wrong.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Park Row; Original edition (March 5, 2019)
Crime by the Book is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.