The Other Woman

Written by Laura Wilson

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


The Other Woman
Quercus
RRP: £19.99
Released: October 5, 2017
Hbk

There is a frisson of excitement on opening a new book to find it written with style but on a hackneyed theme. The last is obvious from the title, and the style from the first few words as detectives approach a substantial country house to break news of a murder to the occupants, presumably family. Promising. Neither the victim nor the bereaved is identified but murder is implicit from the presence of CID rather than uniforms. So how is this scenario going to differ from previous plots involving wife, partner and the other woman? The reader is hooked.

Sophie Hamilton has everything: amiable husband, bright children, gorgeous house, the yacht, cars, even her own chic gift shop. And then she gets an anonymous letter, the third in a series. Formerly it was no more than abuse but now, while jeering at Sophie’s smug superiority, the writer informs her that she has been having an affair with her husband for two years. Worse, he’s about to leave his home and join her, his long-time mistress.

Sophie goes into a flat spin. An intelligent woman in a stable marriage would have shown the letter to her husband immediately but this is a person who as a child lived in squalor with her hippie mother. Life had been a nomadic existence with no security, no proper food nor steady education, no money for rent, always keeping one step ahead of landlords by way of moonlight flits.

Then Leo Hamilton came on the scene and Sophie’s world changed dramatically. No way is she going back to a life on the streets, as she envisages it for, with Leo gone, everything would go: the house, the children’s expensive schools, the cars, the yacht, even the Labrador. Sophie has imagination in spades and she vacillates. She isn’t acting out of character in not showing the letter to her husband; it could be the product of a diseased mind but there’s a possibility it’s genuine. He would deny its implication of course but would he be telling the truth?

Through days of excruciating domestic minutiae and sleepless nights she agonises over the problem; finding herself watching Leo like a hawk, rooting in his pockets, alert for lipstick smudges, for alien scents. She makes clumsy attempts to investigate the private lives of various women in their social circle, becoming increasingly neurotic in the process. At intervals there are suspicious discoveries with long slow build-ups between them.

There is implausible behaviour on the part of adults who run the gamut from eccentricity to dementia. In fact the only believable characters in this story are the children. There’s not a word nor an action out of place in the portrayal of the appalling pubescent Zac, the censorious Poppy; even Alfie, on his gap year in Borneo, who comes home just in time for the appalling end – even he, the oldest sibling, is a neat cameo of bewildered youth faced with a dire family emergency.

The resolution fulfils all the promise of the start with grisly and explosive farce embellished by humour: the blackest of gallows noir. Unfortunately it took a long time and too many words to get here. As a novel The Other Woman falls between stools: neither fish nor fowl, and too many red herrings. I have the feeling that the author is experimenting and it doesn’t quite come off – but it should be a startling popular success.



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