Woodhams (Sweet Justice, 2002) delivers a comeuppance to abusive husbands in this thriller.
Mora Rey’s husband, Sherman, is a despicable boor. “You’re a gutless female, Mora,” he snarls when his wife wants to stop skiing because of an approaching storm. So it comes as a relief when he almost immediately dies in that same weather event. Flash-forward a couple of years to Mora sitting by the hospital bed of her friend Helen, the victim of a savage beating delivered by her own husband. After her death, Mora vows to make up for not protecting her friend. She serves on the board of the Battered Women’s Escape Foundation and heads the Outreach Committee with other victims of abuse. Carol’s and Erin’s husbands died in convenient “accidents” that weren’t so accidental. Instead of a first wives’ club, this is a widows’ club, and their mission is to liberate other women from abusive relationships. When wealthy women cannot escape from their well-connected husbands, the Outreach Committee engineers their husbands’ deaths in ways made to look like accidents. The philandering, foulmouthed Marshall is next on their hit list. The committee doesn’t realize that the attempted murder has gone awry, though; after his rafting accident, Marshall wakes up with amnesia in a nearby hospital. Then the women discover that their financial officer, Quentin Pryor, is abusing his wife, Leigh. After taking action, they become embroiled in a murder investigation. The novel’s attempt to raise awareness of domestic violence is admirable. Woodhams clearly sympathizes with abused women, particularly when it seems as if all the cards are stacked against them. The novel overflows with facts about abuse, although the act of inserting statistics into the text, as when Mora thinks, “In California alone, a little over one percent of children are abused,” seems stilted. There isn’t much subtlety to this story; the male characters are almost all abusers who are unrepentant and irredeemable. A lighter touch overall might have been more effective and more entertaining.
A heavy-handed message weighs down this crime caper.