Reviewed by Jed R. Cruz
MY LOVELY WIFE
By Samantha Downing
374 pages. Penguin.
My Lovely Wife is the story of a married couple who get their thrills from killing other people.
The protagonist is a tennis instructor. He works at the local country club and frequently rubs elbows with its elite clientele. He lives in an upscale Florida neighborhood, has two beautiful children, and a loving wife. In the evenings, he pretends to be a deaf man named Tobias and goes on predatory bar crawls to find a suitable candidate for he and his wife to murder.
He’s quite reprehensible and unlikeable. He’s also a bit of an idiot, which just makes him more impossible to root for.
In fact, there really are no admirable characters in My Lovely Wife in the traditional sense. The main character, whose real name is certainly not Tobias, is petty and inconsistent and unfaithful to his wife Millicent. She, in turn, is a manipulative control freak who can amplify the slightest breach of trust into an armageddon of biblical proportions. Their son is a liar and a blackmailer, and their daughter is a nervous wreck.
In many ways, the enduring horror of My Lovely Wife lies not in the whole business of murder, but in realizing the depths that people can reach to alleviate the suffocating mundanity of a life that has become too normal, or too ordinary. An accident introduces Not-Tobias and his wife to the joys of premeditated killing, and much like an anniversary, it soon becomes a regular activity. The reader joins their story with the two already having several notches on their murder-belt and with the husband sniffing around for the next one.
After Tobias jumps in bed — unbeknownst to Millicent — with their latest prospect and deems her unworthy, the hunt for the next viable victim begins. He also cooks up a convoluted scheme to fool the media and the police into believing that a serial killer from decades past is back and doing the killings. The stalking and the manipulating continue until halfway in, when the plot actually gets interesting: their “clever” schemes begin affecting the community and their family in very believable ways.
Killing people is a shocking topic, but the most disturbing things are the horrors that hit closer to home: paranoia, domestic abuse, suicide, and the indifferent, unstoppable force that is modern media. My Lovely Wife quietly flips a switch partway into its story and shifts the focus from smug would-be serial killers to an intimate examination of how the community reacts to the murders. It is at this point that the novel peaks, with the threat of the couple’s discovery looming and with the local media at its most frenzied and with the relationships between the family members at their most frayed. Everyone reacts to the news of the murders and the alleged serial killer’s return in different ways, from the family’s kids, to the husband’s tennis clients, to the media people investigating the crimes. It is a truly engaging stretch in the novel.
Then the bubble bursts and the story eventually steps back into familiar psycho-thriller territory, hurtling towards the end with the requisite plot twists and shocking revelations.
Despite some clichéd elements, it’s still a worthwhile read. My Lovely Wife is worth the attention of horror and thriller fans alike for the unique experience of seeing this strange, low-key societal breakdown through the eyes of characters who simply and truly deserve the worst of what they’ve got coming to them.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Jed is one of the co-founders of Popsicle Games, a game development studio based in the Philippines. He has worked as an animator, web designer, and college instructor, but he continues to dream of writing for a living. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @jrevita.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]