A Simple Favour: Too many unreliable narrators poorly written spoil this

A Simple Favour book review

What is this about?: Three very fucked up characters tied up in a death, awful marriages and… just in general, an effed up situation.

What else?: I wish it had something more to be about, but really there isn’t.

Stars: 2/5

Blurb:

She’s your best friend.

She knows all your secrets.

That’s why she’s so dangerous.

A single mother’s life is turned upside down when her best friend vanishes in this chilling debut thriller in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. 

It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time. 

But Emily doesn’t come back. She doesn’t answer calls or return texts. Stephanie knows something is terribly wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. The nightmare of her disappearance is over.

Or is it? Because soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing—not friendship, love, or even an ordinary favor—is as simple as it seems. 

A Simple Favor is a remarkable tale of psychological suspense—a clever and twisting free-fall of a ride filled with betrayals and reversals, twists and turns, secrets and revelations, love and loyalty, murder and revenge. Darcey Bell masterfully ratchets up the tension in a taut, unsettling, and completely absorbing story that holds you in its grip until the final page

Despite a promising start, this book de-evolves into a right mess by the end. The author seems to be of the opinion that if one unreliable narrator in a book, three will make readers ecstatic … only, why would anyone get invested in a book where no one seems to be a half decent human being?

I mean, I get that books don’t need characters to have readers root for them, in the hands of a better author I would not have wondered about that. But. This author is not for me.

Unreliable narrators

Look, I know they’re on trend at the moment, but having three of them in a book doesn’t really make the book better. Or it might if the writing and the plot had been better? I can’t decide.

What I do know is that of the:

  • Blogger Mommy: Stephanie, who is a widow and best friends with Emily. Emily dies, and very quickly Stephanie becomes a woman obsessed with moving into Emily’s life in a way. Well, to me that’s what it seemed like given her jealously of Emily’s life, before she started a relationship with Sean, Emily’s husband. There’s also a creepy Stepford wife thing about her that could have made her interesting, but really didn’t.
  • High-flying executive Emily: who is arguably the most effed up of the three, but she’s a cold, logical kind of effed up that can carry a book, if it’s not weighed down by the other two
  • The very confused husband who becomes even more confused by the end, Sean: Starts as too vague, then becomes too effed up too quickly, before it became clear he’s the patsy, if an effed up one.

And yes, I used the words effed up often because it encompasses so many facets of how much I didn’t like this book.

Some authors can carry off unreliable narrators with ease, writing a deceptive, engrossing novel that leaves you breathless. But before you stick three in a book, maybe just try the one narrator, I think. When this book starts, there’s all the potential of a riveting domestic noir novel, before it slowly becomes something … well, I continued reading to see just how bad it could get. Let me put it that way.

There’s nothing to like about these characters, and Stephanie, who is arguably  the one we’re supposed to root for suddenly confesses she committed incest and with her half-brother. Why? I don’t know. That revelation had no impact on the rest of the story, and could have been replaced with anything, which led me to believe it was simply about shock value – let’s have the wholesome mommy blogger be decidedly unwholesome. I guess to give her her own version of being a deceptive character like the other two.

Sean is a crutch used to fuel the story between Emily and Stephanie. There’s some attempt to make him seem more, but it fizzles quickly and he goes from semi-unreliable narrator to plot device.

Emily had the most potential, I think. She is coldly logical and damn ruthless and had the book built the other two characters to play off her better, this might have been actually good.

But it’s not. It’s really not. Deceptive blurb is deceptive.

10 Comments

  • I’ve never been drawn to unreliable narrators, but I do think they can work when they’re well written. Too bad that wasn’t the case here. And Stephanie doesn’t sound like someone I’d root for. Plus that incest thing does sound like it was just thrown in for shock value or to make her character “interesting.” Sorry this book was such a miss for you!

  • Silvia says:

    Okaaaay, I think I’m gonna stay away from this one . . . So sorry you had such an annoying time with it 🙁

  • Kelly says:

    This sounds like a mess. I love an unreliable narrator but when they’re all created in the same vain, the storyline gets messy and readers have nothing substantial to hold onto. It just seems so overwritten and busy. Sorry you had such a terrible time with this one Verushka, it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea either <3

  • I do like the occasional book about effed up characters, but only when they’re well executed…which sadly doesn’t seem to be the case here. And is it just me, or does the phrase “mommy blogger” immediately make you suspicious? Maybe Stephanie is the killer! Hahaha.

  • Lily says:

    okay if there was one unlikeable character I would understand, but all three? Ugh I would so have major issues with this as well >.<

  • they may be on trend but unreliable narrators is a fairly new concept for me. I can only remember one right now, which was the Devil Crept. So, I really don’t know how I feel about unreliable narrators yet but yes, I think three would be too much! I don;t think I would enjoy this book either!

  • Maria Behar says:

    BRILLIANT review, Verushka! KUDOS to you!!!! <3 : )

    As far as I can recall, I don't think I've ever read a book involving unreliable narrators. Also, thrillers are not the type of genre I enjoy reading anyway. But I still read your review because I wanted to know exactly why you felt disappointed by it. Well, from what you've stated, I can see why this story just didn't do it for you! You've explained everything quite well!

    I hate it when a book appears to be something really TERRIFIC, a page-turner, but then, when I start reading it, my interest fizzles out because of bad characterizations. Characters are the LIFE of a novel! If we really can't relate to them, then obviously the book will fall flat on its face, like this one did.

    Thanks for your very insightful thoughts!! <3 <3 : ) : )

  • Yikes this sounds a hot mess!! I like and unreliable narrator but three seems overkill and like it didn’t work at all. Sorry this one wasn’t very good. Great review!

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