‘My Lovely Wife’ is the ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ for mystery fans

Sunday, March 10, 2019 - 4:55pm

Everyone has a routine. For me, it’s listening to an episode of “The Daily” podcast while I eat a slice of banana bread and drink my Ceylon black tea every morning.

For the narrator of Samantha Downing’s “My Lovely Wife,” it’s stopping at the the EZ-Go gas station two miles from his home to get a cup of coffee. It’s having a movie night with his family every week. It’s cheering at the sidelines for each one of his daughter’s soccer game.

The narrator sounds pretty much like your everyday man. A loving father. A doting husband. He’s the kind of guy that would have a nice word for everyone.

He also kills with his wife.

Their routine is like this: He would meet his women at bars, acting as a non-threatening deaf man. They’d chat. They might share some more drinks. By the end of the hour, he’s invited to spend the night. The next day, he lets his wife know if the woman is “right.” If she is, the events progress rapidly. His wife would capture the aforementioned woman, then murder her. It’s a delicious, sexy secret between them. Who would suspect a duo? But when one of the victims is discovered, something doesn’t add up. She was supposed to be dead for over a year. Instead, the autopsy reports that she’s been dead for only a few weeks. The narrator realizes that his wife has been keeping secrets from him. Gradually, the picturesque suburban life that this couple has built up is starting to crumble.

Written in first-person, “My Lovely Wife” makes it difficult not to get attached to the narrator. Despite his role as an accomplice, it’s tempting to absolve him. Some men buy chocolate and roses to please their partner. He kills for her. You almost want to cheer him on and you certainly don’t want him to get caught. Think of the children! Due to the limitations of first person, the tensions are higher. The wife who had once seemed like an alluring woman shifts into the role of a cold-hearted psychopath. It’s hard to pinpoint if the reason is due to Downing’s masterful revelations as the novel switches from past to present, uncovering more and more details that had seemed benign at first glance, or if the reason is more sinister. Has the unreliable narrator clouded our perception? Has he weaved a persona of a wife that doesn’t exist? The readers can only rely on the husband to get each answer. By the last quarter of the book, the mound of questions start getting answered. Somehow each reveal is more shocking than the last. With mounting, almost morbid horror, the novel is impossible to put down.

“My Lovely Wife” is marketed as your “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” meets “Gone Girl,” but it’s more than that. It’s a twisty, psychological thriller that has your blood pumping, your sympathy awry and an ending so satisfying that I’m already looking forward to Samantha Downing’s next book.