BOOK REVIEW: The Liar’s Wife, two kidnappings and a murder

Hayes, Samantha - The Liar's Wife (2)The Liar’s Wife
Samantha Hayes

For the past ten years, since a tragic fire, Ella Sinclair has isolated herself. Fearful of questions that might reveal her role in the tragedy, Ella refuses to become close to anyone, finding solace in her work, home, sleep routine.

One night, she is biking home and a van hits her when it unsafely enters a roundabout. Days later, she wakes from a coma with a broken arm and leg. Her nurse assures her that her loving husband has been by her side. But Ella has never been married. Who could this stranger be? When she sees his face, she recoils in horror and wants to escape but “Jacob” was there the night of the fire and has a video tape implicating Ella in the events leading up to it.

She feels she has no choice but to let him take her home with him and pose as his wife. As he did a decade ago, Jacob beats Ella, forbids her from leaving the house, and watches her with video tapes installed throughout the dwelling. Having one leg in a cast and one arm broken makes escape even more elusive. Still, she has just moved from one prison, the one of isolation, to another, physical cell. Inquisitive and trying-to-be-helpful neighbors create a minefield Ella must navigate.

As the narrative barrels to the inevitable confrontation between Ella and Jacob, Samantha Hayes inserts a number of characters from Ella’s past that could be Jacob. Usually, I don’t figure out mysteries very quickly, but I guessed Jacob’s identity early on. Because Hayes has to keep all the options for these characters open, occasionally she has to do narrative acrobatics. Additionally, Liam, a co-worker of Ella’s, has a handful of point of view chapters, and he’s presented as a counterpoint to Jacob. Unfortunately, I found his character rather problematic as he constantly transgressed borders, even if it was out of concern for Ella.

Despite being held prisoner, having a difficult time with mobility, and being given an unexpected responsibility, Ella is determined to escape. Her perseverance in the face of pain reminded me of Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill character. Ella’s achievements are in private; she fears revealing her goals to Jacob in case he retaliates or limits her further. Perhaps the driving force around the narrative relates not to what will happen but how and if Ella can ever start developing relationships with others.

The Liar’s Wife was an enjoyable if not lasting thriller, and Ella’s broken leg and consequent immobility added a unusual dimension. The pace of the book, though, was a little off for me; it didn’t ever really grab me. Some of the peripheral characters, such as Ella’s college roommate, were to my mind stereotypical. And there was a plot strand that was unexpectedly resolved when in this case, it would have been better to leave as an open mystery.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for providing an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

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