Murderously Romantic: A Review of My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
Words By Chase Bailey
Published March 6, 2019 by Berkley Publishing
Work is done for the day, dinner’s been eaten and the dishes cleared, the kids are in bed, and it’s date night. Only instead of salsa lessons or a movie, date night takes place in the car. No, it’s not a road trip. Can’t a wife and her husband have a comfortable date night in their car, securely parked in their closed garage, eating last year’s Halloween candy?
Privacy is invaluable when you’re planning your next murder.
My Lovely Wife invites us in to take a look around, dares us to try to find the flaw in the plan, and sizes us up as if we might be the next target. Husband Tobias and wife Millicent stalk their prey and make a plan for their next victim. Their first was a mistake. Their second, maybe. The third? Not a chance.
The dynamic between these two is enthralling, built upon desire and captivation. The secrets they share form terrifyingly powerful connections. But what about the secrets they keep from each other? When your literal partner-in-crime is going behind your back, what can you do about it without threatening your safety, and that of your children?
Downing constructs a perfect depiction of domestic life in this debut novel, twisting the typical pleasures and challenges of marriage and parenthood. Family dinner turns dark after sunset. Your son blackmails you. Your daughter hides knives in her backpack. Your client at the tennis club dies before her Tuesday lesson.
Seamlessly transitioning between flashback and the present, Downing pushes the narrative forward by informing us of her characters’ pasts, particularly those of our main character Tobias. Through him we fall in love with Millicent, come to terms with a middle-of-the-road state of being, kill someone, fall deeper in love. This dutiful husband will do anything to see light in the captivating green eyes of his wife. But the more he seems to look into her eyes, the more secrets he sees hidden away. Why would she keep one of their victims alive for a whole year after the night they’d planned to kill her?
The pacing of Downing’s work is equally delicious; she elicits two types of suspense in this novel. The first half of the book is slow and methodical—everything is planned out step by step, and there’s no room for error. That all crumbles to chaos in the second half, in which everything is error brought into hyper-focus.
The short chapters take sharp lefts and hard rights, making the book impossible to put down. The quick snapshots of the characters’ daily lives—which are anything but boring (remember what I said about your son blackmailing you?)—pull your attention onto the next page, the question “What happens next?” constantly on the tip of the tongue. Who will appear, or disappear, next? Who’s going to snap first? What secrets does the next chapter hold?
The ending of the book is a tricky thing to pin down. On one hand, I didn’t love how the last twenty pages played out. Tobias finds that it suddenly becomes him against the world, and he has to find a way to clear his name. As readers, we follow him closely, rooting for him to find the missing link to make his problems disappear. Yet before Tobias’s plan can develop and unfurl, an alternative ending is acted out and the time we, as readers, spent with Tobias in the thick of his crisis feels a little forgotten.
On the other hand, I kind of loved the ultimate ending—all because of the novel’s final, unsettling line. Though My Lovely Wife may be Downing’s debut novel, she’s no newbie to the writing scene. This is just one of twelve completed works. Once readers get their hands on it, they’ll be demanding more.