The unreliable-narrator craze continues with Delaney's (The Girl Before, 2017) new thriller.
A disgraced British actress named Claire Wright comes to the United States, sans green card, looking for work. Her agent gives her the bad news. "The days we took the huddled masses yearning to be free are long over." She ends up working for a divorce lawyer, setting up stings to entrap unfaithful husbands by pretending to be a high-priced hooker. Then one of her prospective clients is found dead beneath a bloody sheet in a hotel room. Primary suspect: the woman's husband, a Columbia University professor and the translator of Baudelaire's book of S&M poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal. The police suspect he's a serial killer, with previous Baudelaire-inspired murders under his belt, ha ha. They have Claire go undercover to lure this guy into a confession. It's the role of her career, one she throws herself into so wholeheartedly she loses track of what is real and what is masquerade, ending up madly in love with her target. After many twists and pseudo-reveals, she ends up first in a mental institution and then with a starring role in My Heart Laid Bare, the suspected killer's off-Broadway show based on a nasty incident in the life of Baudelaire. "Who is the real Claire Wright? The one sitting here with her precious green card and permit in front of her, exchanging pleasantries with the man who provided it? Or the one who fell for the darkness she sensed deep inside the only man she couldn't seduce?" An unreliable-narrator setup works best when the character believes her own story or is lying intentionally to other characters in the book. When it mostly means that the narrator deliberately conceals key facts from the reader for no purpose other than to create confusion and suspense, it feels a little cheesy. The author confesses in an afterword that she wrote and published this book decades prior to last year's bestseller, The Girl Before, but it didn't do very well, so she's trying again with a rewrite.
The best parts of this book were written in the middle of the 19th century by Charles Baudelaire.