Alafair Burke, Faber & Faber, 2018, ISBN 978 0 571 32818 5, 340pp
I had read and reviewed (The Beagle, 23 February 2018) James Lee Burke’s latest (and possibly last) novel Robichaux. Alafair Burke is his daughter and while the father’s books paint broad pictures with sometimes blurry brushstrokes, the daughter’s books are plot-driven and focussed. Both are wonderful writers; there must be something genetic going on. Alafair Burke is a former prosecutor who now teaches law. I imagine she knows what she is talking about.
The Wife contributes positively to her track record as a first-rate writer of legal thrillers. As the reverberations of the Harvey Weinstein scandal still echo through the various halls of power and undue influence, this novel starts with an accusation of sexual impropriety by its leading male character, Jason Powell. Powell is a professor and a popular author with a thriving consultancy business on the side. There is the possibility of a career in politics. As I started the novel I thought that the plot would revolve around the allegations against Jason Powell and the reaction of his wife, Angela. I was wrong.
The beauty of this novel is that way that it draws one into to ever deeper layers of background and drama as the plot evolves. Jason Powell’s wife is the wife of the title. At the beginning of the book I expected that her role might be as a bystander or narrator, that we were to see the problems facing Jason Powell through her eyes. In fact, in another layer to the plot, it turns out that Angela Powell has a past. As a teenager she had been abducted and for three years she was held captive. When she was eventually freed, and her captor killed by police, she had a child. All this is revealed gradually as a second complaint of sexual assault is made against Jason Powell by another woman, Kerry Lynch.
A third character in the novel is the detective Corrine Duncan, not to my mind a likeable character but a tenacious one. In fact, Alafair Burke seems to have a knack of drawing characters that are not just flawed but not very likeable. Gradually the Powell’s marriage, which seemed so perfect, begins to come apart. As the plot develops we meet Angela’s mother. Every character has its flaws and I was never quite sure which one was to be trusted. In the end … well, you really need to read this book to appreciate how clever it is. It’s a psychological thriller of the best kind. You will be turning the pages. I am not surprised to learn that it is to be made into movie. You could wait for the movie but, frankly, you would be better popping into Moruya Books and hoping there’s a copy there. You will not regret it.