A tangled web, indeed: These two psychological thrillers offer dramatic twists and turns, plus a hearty dose of scandal, as they explore what might happen when a seemingly perfect person is murdered—and those left behind discover the deceptions that lurked beneath the victim’s distractingly charismatic surface.
Can women have it all? Araminta Hall examines that eternally lingering question in all its darkly sexist glory via her new novel, Imperfect Women. The author puts Eleanor Meakins, Nancy Hennessy and Mary Smithson front and center. The three women have been best friends since they were at Oxford together 20 years ago. There, they intertwined their lives and excitedly shared their dreams of the future, but today, two of them are horrified and grieving.
Beautiful, wealthy, possessor-of-a-perfect-family Nancy has been murdered, and Eleanor (devoted to her job, longing for romance) and Mary (beleaguered mother of three, wife to a philanderer) are stunned. But, they wonder, how well did they actually know their friend? The women have grown apart over time; their love for one another remains, but distance and distrust have long been creeping in to their relationships.
Readers who enjoy a challenge will appreciate how deftly Hall paints nearly every character as a viable suspect. Did Nancy’s husband Robert, who pooh-poohed her depression, know she was having an affair? Could said paramour have committed the crime? Was Eleanor jealous enough to do something so terrible? Could Mary’s resentment at her decidedly imperfect life have turned deadly? Each woman takes a turn as unreliable narrator, revealing their deferred dreams and unmet desires, as well as allowing themselves the selfishness and aggravation they don’t reveal to the world. There’s a lot of anger there, too, at disrespectful and self-absorbed men who don’t listen to, appreciate or support the women they profess to love. After all, thinks Nancy, “Women in this world are expected to conform, even if it doesn’t seem like that anymore. What’s wrong with you, men ask as they push forward, why aren’t you happy back there, why isn’t it enough?”
Imperfect Women is an engrossing deep dive into the individual and shared history of a long-term friendship, an acknowledgement of the slow poison of being confined by gender roles, and an exploration of what can happen when reasonable expectations begin to seem sadly unattainable.
On the dedication page of her fourth thriller, Convince Me, author Nina Sadowsky gets right to the point: “This book is for everyone who is sick and tired of the fucking liars and their fucking lies.” Justin Childs sure is a liar—although, as the novel begins, his family and friends have no idea. Rather, they’re mourning his death in a car accident and wondering how they’re going to go on without his charismatic, intelligent, everybody’s-a-friend presence in their lives.
His mother, Carol, loves her son completely and fiercely, and is determined to preserve his legacy of near perfection. His widow, Annie, steels herself to get through the funeral even as she wonders why, after never taking any pills, Justin was found to have Valium in his system. And his best friend and business partner, Will, is left reeling at this grievous loss and its timing—just before the two men were due to launch their tech startup, Convincer Media.
It’s this business-related anxiety that soon disturbs a massive and complex hornets’ nest of lies: Something’s amiss in the financial records, and Convincer’s supposed main investor has never heard of Justin. And that, it turns out, is just for starters. As Annie and Will view their time with Justin through a newly skeptical lens, it dawns on them, inexorably, upsettingly, that they never knew him at all. As Annie muses, “Piecing Justin together is like trying to coax a clear image from a kaleidoscope.”
But they need to ferret out the truth, and fast, because people’s money is at stake and the police are taking an interest. Sadowsky does an excellent job of showing how, bit by careful bit, someone like Justin could fool so many for so long: White lies gone unchallenged lay the groundwork for larger deceptions, and declarations of devotion can be disarming and effective distractions. Convince Me’s tension is often internal, and compellingly so. Readers ride along as the characters confront their own roles in perpetuating the myth of Justin, and decide whether they’re going to succumb to rage or do their best to ensure they won’t get fooled again.