A woman finds her husband dead behind their house and then realizes he was not at all the man she thought she knew in Kent’s (The Crooked House, 2016, etc.) gripping domestic thriller.
Fran and Nathan Hall have recently moved with their two young children to a farm near the small, run-down village in eastern England where Nathan grew up. Fran is aware of a growing tension in the marriage, exacerbated by her isolation as a stay-at-home mother and her husband’s lack of sexual interest, but when she finds Nathan murdered one night, she has no idea what mysteries will surface during the investigation. Providing some flashbacks to explain how the two met and married, the novel focuses on Fran and her conflict with the provincial, misogynist local police as they try to get to the bottom of the matter. The mystery is a slow-burn but is startlingly effective at this pace. The gradual unfolding of truth allows Kent to also explore Fran’s stages of grief, her perspective of a world turned completely upside down, first by murder, then by the faintly sinister investigators, and then by the power of the secrets in Nathan’s life and in her own. Fran seems utterly, heartbreakingly alone in her loss and in her world, but she maintains a driving sense of self that becomes stronger in the face of adversity. The novel’s other great strength is its raw, wild setting. The rough blankness of the landscape serves to emphasize the characters’ struggles; this is no bucolic vision but a stark, depressing look at an insular rural area.
While the plot, and even the characters, may sound borderline cliché, there is something about Fran’s complexity that sets this one apart and makes for a truly chilling, absorbing read.