Rating: 5 out of 5
Darby Kane’s thriller Pretty Little Wife: A Novel is a wild ride! Lila is married to Aaron, a high-school teacher, and she’s just found videos of him sleeping with his students. This brings a crisis to a head, as Aaron ratchets up his manipulation and emotional abuse of Lila in order to control her and keep her from telling anyone. In parallel, the police and a podcast creator are looking into the cases of three missing young women in the area. When Aaron goes missing, the police look at the spouse first of course. But Lila’s only worry is–where did the body go? She left him dead in his SUV in the school parking lot, but now he isn’t there, and someone’s leaving her notes making it clear they know what she did (“That didn’t go as planned, did it?”). Did Aaron survive after all?
There are some excellent characters in this story. Lila is not entirely neurotypical, and the police investigator, Ginny Davis, picks up on it pretty quickly. She doesn’t act the same as a typical person whose spouse disappears. And when Ginny talks with Lila, she always ends up feeling like she’s sparring with the woman. There’s neighbor Cassie who seems to be little more than a nosy gossip at first glance. Brent, the school principal and Aaron’s best friend, seems bent on blaming Lila for his disappearance. Jared, Aaron’s brother, runs a little hot and cold on Lila, but overall seems to be there to help. And the townspeople turn on her, protesting at the end of her driveway. Ryan Horita, a “friend” of Lila’s, also has a few secrets in his back pocket.
This is a fantastic psychological thriller. Is Aaron alive or dead? Was Ryan just a fling of Lila’s, or does he have his own agenda? Will Jared ultimately fall on Lila’s side or not? What will Ginny do as she figures out the details of what happened? How will the town react when the videos of Aaron with his students ultimately come to light?
The pacing is masterful, taking us through the building tension of Ginny-versus-Lila, the background question of what happened to those missing girls, and on up to the shattering climax. I’m going to have to read more by Darby Kane!