What is this about: This is less a thriller and more an exploration of two characters that are messed up in very different ways, so much so that the question of Dennis’ innocence only comes to the fore very much towards the end of the book.
What else is this about?: Messed up characters, who shouldn’t work together and weirdly should work together.
Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl. Now he’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.
A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis’s case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.
When the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, however, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all.
But how do you confront your husband when you don’t want to know the truth?
The winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Competition, Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife is gripping psychological suspense from a brilliant new voice in crime fiction.
Given the blurb for The Innocent Wife, and the title itself, I went into this book expecting Sam to find herself married to a man she eventually realises isn’t actually innocent. The promise of that journey and that discovery is why I wanted to read this. Instead, I found this book to be a steady exploration of two characters who are messed up in their own right to the point that Dennis’ guilt or innocence is really an afterthought in the last … third maybe of the book.
Undeniably one of the strengths of this book is the writer’s gift when it comes to characterisation and messing with your head.
We meet Sam as a lonely woman in England who finds herself obsessed with Dennis’ case, the documentary made about him, and eventually the online forums where she finds people like her trying to help him. She is insecure about herself, and mustering up the courage to write to Dennis, and to reply to his subsequent letters is a big thing for her.
Quickly, the letters become about them falling in love, and she takes the next step to go see him. Once in the US, meeting him in prison is a thrill, it’s as if in her head they are running through fields for an epic reunion and hug and kiss. Everything is heightened for Sam, everything about him is heightened for Sam.
Dennis on the other hand is an enigma of sorts until he asks her to marry him, and is freed.
Once free, the image Sam had of the romance in her head comes crumbling down with the reality of who Dennis really is – though she tries her best to talk herself into finding excuses for him, into every little smile or kind word meaning a whole lot more than it really is in her head. The reality is Dennis is a man she doesn’t know. He is blunt and abrupt with her, and shows her no affection unless other people are around or there are cameras.
The cameras – yeah, the celebrity that comes with being a man newly proven innocent of a crime, and the subject of a documentary is an interesting part of this. There are gifts, photoshoots and talkshows. There’s also so much that Dennis doesn’t understand culturally, and refused to listen to anyone about – including social media.
As these two get to know each other, and navigate the aftermath of his release, a good chunk of time passes in the book – up to a year, as I recall. So you can well imagine, that while so much is devoted to them learning about each other, there’s no inkling that Sam has any doubts about who he is.
Time to go home
It’s when Dennis has to return to his hometown, to bury his father, that you would expect Sam to begin to question his innocence, but she really doesn’t. Instead, we’re introduced to Dennis’ past, his friends and past as the author begins another journey towards the question of his innocence.
I’m not saying it’s not good writing, but the pacing is incredibly uneven, and it’s as if this part should have been the entire book, building up to the question of his innocence, instead of cramming it towards the end of the book.
Sam suffers the most in this part of the book, with her characterisation and thoughts regarding Dennis flipping like a switch. The resolution was unexpected and uneven itself, because it came out of the blue, and was crammed into a small section of this latter part of the book.
Despite the issues of this book, in addition to characterisation or perhaps because of it, as I was reading the first part of the book, I couldn’t figure out if Sam was slightly unhinged or not, and that it was Dennis who might actually be in trouble. It is superb writing, but eventually I didn’t want to read about Sam and Dennis cleaning up his old house, or the dad he hated, or burying a cat (admittedly Sam does wonder if Dennis killed this cat, but it’s the one instance in the book when she doubts him and talks herself out of it) – there were other characters that could have used that interaction and time with these two to build up to Sam’s suspicions as promised in the blurb.
I don’t quite know what to think of this. It is a great story, but a rushed ending didn’t do it for me.