by Kate Hatfield ‧ RELEASE DATE: Dec. 1, 1996
A British work that begins as a riveting psychological novel on the subject of marriage and violence, then sadly sinks into melodrama. Hatfield (author of several historical and crime novels under the pseudonym Daphne Wright, including The Distant Kingdom, 1987) begins with the wretched life of Michael Beechen, a struggling young actor, doting father to three small children, and husband of a shrewish and physically abusive wife. The narrative jumps from Michael to the personable Melissa Wraxall, a young entrepreneur with her own restored Georgian rowhouse in Bath and a fast-track, corporate accountant husband. Called for jury duty, she finds herself among the 12 chosen to decide Michael Beechen's fate: He stands accused of having stabbed his wife to death. The prosecution ridicules the strapping Michael's claim of spousal abuse and self-defense. Juxtaposed with the trial testimony are scenes from a marriage--not the one that ended in death, but the quickly deteriorating union of Melissa and her husband Martin. Newly fired, the caustic Martin strikes out at every turn, emotionally abusing Melissa and coming very close to raping her. As Michael continues his testimony, cataloging eight years' worth of broken bones and assaults with screwdrivers and steam irons, Melissa begins to lose her objectivity: The psychological similarities between the two marriages become more and more apparent. Added to Melissa's distress is the revelation of family secrets that throw light on her own potentially masochistic behavior, luckily, fellow juror Adam Blake, a sensitive and sensible fellow, befriends Melissa--though, as their friendship turns to love, the plot loses some of its taut focus. In the cathartic finale, the deadlocked jury finally comes to a verdict, Martin gets his comeuppance, and love, conquering all, prevails. Often too predictable, and burdened by one too many plot digressions, but, still, a generally compelling portrait of the psychology of love and violence.
Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1996
Page Count: 288
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996
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