In this psychological thriller, a woman with an abusive, controlling boyfriend agrees to help him exact revenge on a childhood friend.
Felicity and Jay, of Coalton in Britain, have a classic co-dependent relationship. He drinks, loses his temper, and gets into fights; she tries to intervene, picks up the pieces, and makes excuses to her friends. Even uncritical Felicity is taken aback, though, when Jay asks her to become Mark Hutchington’s girlfriend so that she can make him suffer. Eleven years ago, when Jay and Mark were 16, they were best friends—until Mark slept with Jay’s girlfriend, Sammie. She later disappeared. “Everything that’s gone wrong for me is because of him,” Jay says. Chapters from Sammie’s point of view explain the events of 11 years ago and reveal early parallels to Felicity’s experience with Jay. Felicity becomes angrily defensive when a friend confronts her about Jay’s mistreatment—“I am not vulnerable and I’m no pushover”—and to somehow prove that, she agrees with the revenge plan, though she has misgivings when Mark is gentle, caring, and supportive. (Sammie’s experience, however, suggests another side to him.) Jay’s control-freak abuse quickly escalates, and Felicity becomes his prisoner. But reaching out to Mark uncovers a terrible and dangerous secret. Chapman (Too Good for this World, 2015, etc.) writes a concise, quick-paced, and dramatic woman-in-jeopardy story. She demonstrates a superb understanding of how women wind up with charming con artists who turn abusive; Sammie, for example, gets little love or attention from her parents, who are divorcing after her brother’s death. Felicity, too, experienced a family tragedy that left her with her guard down. But it’s a tough read when not a single character is sympathetic, kind, thoughtful, or self-aware; they instead range from maddening to loathsome. The pathologies of domestic violence presented here are well-known from fictional and nonfictional sources, making some things predictable, such as Jay’s increasing violence and control and Felicity’s denial that it’s happening. The surprising elements, meanwhile, feel garish and exploitative.
While adding to the literature of domestic violence, this novel delivers unpleasant characters.