MY LOVELY WIFE by Samantha Downing
Berkley Publishing; 3/26/19
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: addictive, wickedly irresistible domestic suspense
Appropriately billed as “Mr. And Mrs. Smith meets Dexter,” Samantha Downing’s deliciously dark debut crime novel MY LOVELY WIFE follows a married couple with a unique way of keeping the spark in their relationship alive… serial murder. That’s right, this book centers around a pair of ordinary suburban spouses whose date nights involve death. Sound over the top? It is, but in the best possible way. In MY LOVELY WIFE, Downing pushes the domestic suspense novel to its limits—and the result is a hugely entertaining, seriously sinister suspense read. Let’s be clear: this book has a wild, larger-than-life premise - and it’s one that, frankly, could go wrong in less capable hands. But rest assured, Downing gets it very right. MY LOVELY WIFE is wicked fun to read; readers looking for a suspense novel with plenty of entertainment value that doesn’t take itself too seriously will be hooked on Downing’s razor-sharp debut. As for me, it had been a long time since I read a book that was this fun to devour, and I’m already eagerly anticipating what Downing will do next.
Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.
We look like a normal couple. We're your neighbors, the parents of your kid's friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.
We all have our secrets to keeping a marriage alive.
Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.
For the past few years, the seemingly relentless tide of domestic suspense novels have been asking readers to consider how well we really know those closest to us. Through these books, readers have encountered cheating spouses, duplicitous best friends, drinking problems, neighbors with hidden agendas—but they’ve never encountered anything quite like Millicent and her husband, the demented couple at the heart of Samantha Downing’s debut suspense novel, MY LOVELY WIFE. Millicent and her husband have it all: a beautiful family, a lovely home, and many happy years of marriage behind them. But things have gotten a little… stale in their relationship. And what’s a suburban couple to do when their marriage needs a reboot? Murder people together, naturally. Talk about a bonding experience. (A quick aside: I’d love to know the moment in which author Downing was struck with the inspiration for this premise; it’s just so wild, and so good.) Forget what you’ve read in the domestic suspense space before—MY LOVELY WIFE pushes the boundaries of the genre in the best possible way. Downing throws out tired genre cliches in favor of a razor-sharp, genuinely shocking story of love’s (very) dark side. It’s downright addictive reading material, and once you read it, you’ll never look at your neighbors the same way again.
Narrated in the first person by Millicent’s husband, MY LOVELY WIFE immerses readers in a mentality and worldview that justifies the unthinkable - and does so with spine-tingling authenticity. As a crime reader, there are few things better than reading from the perspective of a really well-drawn villain, and MY LOVELY WIFE delivers exactly that. Downing expertly blurs the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys” to fantastic effect here - you’ll love to follow the jaw-dropping exploits of our story’s leads, and will find yourself shocked by how much you love these genuinely twisted characters. At the heart of MY LOVELY WIFE is an oddly charming relationship: that between a husband and wife whose devotion to one another surpasses even the confines of the law. And no one looms larger in this story than Millicent, the story’s titular “wife.” The mystery of Millicent’s nature - who she is, and what made her that way - is a central driving force behind this story’s propulsive pacing. Downing shrouds Millicent in mystery; she is kept at arm’s length from the readers, a figure as mythic to us as she is to her husband - and the revelation of her darkest secrets and motivations, when they finally come, make for some of the story’s most riveting moments. It’s very difficult to discuss this without spoiling anything (which you know I would never do!), but as MY LOVELY WIFE progresses, our narrator quickly discovers he doesn’t know his wife as well as he thought he did, and readers will find themselves along for the ride as he investigates his beloved wife.
Speaking of Millicent’s husband: what an oddly endearing character Downing has crafted here. It’s easy to love a character like this, a husband thoroughly devoted to his partner and determined to craft a good life for his family. But of course, there’s the little problem of how he shows that devotion. Millicent has a dark side, you see, and our narrator doesn’t exactly rein in her proclivities. Quite the opposite, in fact. From stalking potential victims who might suit his wife’s fancy to figuring out how to dispose of a body and a whole lot more, Millicent’s husband will do whatever it takes to keep his beloved wife satisfied. It’s dark, twisted, completely riveting reading material, and if you’re anything like me, I’m betting you’ll find yourself oddly horrified by how sympathetic the character of Millicent’s husband can prove himself to be. The unapologetically sinister characters central to MY LOVELY WIFE are one of the book’s strongest selling points, and if you love the idea of protagonists who blur the lines between “good” and “evil,” you will find their characterization wholly satisfying and engrossing. Through superb character development, Downing blends the mundane details of suburban living with the extraordinary hobbies of her protagonists seamlessly, infusing MY LOVELY WIFE with unparalleled shock value.
For all its darkness, I was surprised to discover that MY LOVELY WIFE isn’t a particularly violent read. In fact, there’s a levity to this story that will make it better suited to readers of lighter psychological suspense than dark serial killer thrillers. MY LOVELY WIFE is, in many ways, a “guilty pleasure” kind of read: it’s fun, zany, and deliciously binge-readable, and its hugely to its credit that it never takes itself too seriously. For all this book’s murderous schemes, the vast majority of its violence takes place off the page - a quality which I consider an asset in this particular case. Rather than focusing on blood and guts, Downing focuses on character development, entertainment value, and satisfying plot twists - and the result is pitch-perfect psychological suspense perfect for your next weekend binge-read. Don’t pick this book up expecting the next Silence of the Lambs (if straight-up serial killer thrillers are more your speed, check out STALKER by Lars Kepler or THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN by Dot Hutchison); pick this book up expecting binge-worthy drama, shocking plot twists, and a whole lot of wicked fun. If domestic suspense novels like GONE GIRL, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, and LIE TO ME are your cup of tea, MY LOVELY WIFE will be your next bookish obsession.
In the crowded domestic suspense field, MY LOVELY WIFE is a true standout. Wicked and sinister, wry and addictive, this standout suspense novel elevates the domestic thriller, effectively raising the bar for its peers. This is a particularly tricky book to review, if only because so much of what makes this book great is best experienced with little background knowledge, so you’re just going to have to trust me: if shocking, “hook-y,” page-turning psychological suspense novels are your thing, MY LOVELY WIFE belongs on your reading list.
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: 384 pages
Publisher: Berkley (March 26, 2019)
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