In Spanish filmmaker Arévalo’s first novel to appear in English, a widow chooses the least efficient way to investigate her late husband’s secret life.
Alice’s husband, Chris, dies in a car crash while returning from a business trip. She is appalled to learn that the crash occurred along a route he couldn’t have taken—unless he had lied about his whereabouts that night. And Chris “never lied.” Through an arduous process of reviewing security tapes, Alice manages to retrace Chris’ steps to tiny (and fictitious) Robin Island, located near Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Alice moves to the island with her daughters, 6-year-old Olivia and baby Ruby. Happening conveniently—too conveniently—on a full-service spy store, Alice equips herself for a campaign to learn what her husband was doing on Robin Island. She plants listening devices and cameras in the homes of most of her island acquaintances—the population is small but large enough to supply a confusing array of characters, whose connections to Chris range from unclear to unlikely. Why doesn’t Alice simply ask people if they’d seen Chris, whose profession was selling and installing tennis courts? She does but not before resorting to antic subterfuge that takes up most of the book. Unfortunately, eavesdropping on mundane conversations does not make for riveting reading. The over-the-top spying does nothing to illuminate Alice’s stubbornly opaque character and will prove, thanks to a passably absorbing final reveal, largely irrelevant. An affair with a married dentist, whose wife is seriously depressed, renders Alice still less sympathetic; even before establishing Chris’ guilt, she’s seeking pre-emptive, posthumous revenge. Attempts at humor are awkward or perhaps lost in translation, for instance, Alice’s flagrantly unhousebroken rescue dog, Pony. The spy-shop owner’s speech patterns are genuinely comic, though probably inadvertently so. Overall the English prose is labored and the dialogue leaden and/or stilted—perhaps the translation from the original Spanish is at fault.
Enough material for an interesting novella; the rest is padding.