“Love blinds us all…”
I’m on the fence about this one.
I feels like it doesn’t really know what it wants to be – A domestic thriller? Or a contemporary drama?
It touches on a lot of heavy subjects – domestic abuse, the justice system, the morality of the death penalty, wrongful convictions, motherhood and family and guilt and self-preservation. But it lacks the depth and analysis to be an emotional drama. And it’s missing the suspense and sinister atmosphere to be a thriller. Ultimately, it leaves a lot of these themes exposed, but not examined. And that felt unfinished to me.
For a story about a single mother who has to plan a murder to save her family from her abusive new husband, this was exceptionally slow and, and at times, straight up boring.
The first 40% is all build up, focusing on the story of Kristy and Lance – how they met, following the progression of their relationship from dating to marriage. I was not expecting this much emphasis on the romantic element. I experienced a cloud of confusion lingering around my reading experience. I kept thinking do I keep reading this? I didn’t want to read a romance? Is anything going to fucking happen?!
The romance is, at times, cheesy, but overall, emotionally flat. I didn’t feel engaged in the “bliss” stage of their relationship, so when things started to go sideways, I didn’t have too much of an emotional reaction to it. Up to that point, I wasn’t anchored to the good parts. Nothing about this first part of the story was interesting to me. Not even Kristy’s job at the prison provided an exciting element.
I mean come on! Give me a yard brawl with a shiv or a cell smeared in shit. Anything! Ok, maybe not the shit…
It took a lot of willpower for me to get over the 50% mark, but once I did, and adjusted my expectations for what kind of book this actually was, things got a bit better. As someone who has experience with abuse in a relationship, Lance’s behaviour rang true. The things that trigger the abuser, and the perspective of the abuser, felt honest. At times it made me uncomfortable, other times I was angry on Kristy’s behalf. But any time I thought “yeah I remember that pathetic bullshit”, meant Overton made the abuse true-to-life, so that gets extra points from me.
Where it starts to go off the rails is when you get to the question why doesn’t Kristy just leave? That’s a question we always ask women, and in reality the answers are vast and complicated, and sometimes make no sense to a person who is not experiencing the abuse first-hand and has a more rational outlook. But the process of working through those reasons, recognizing they are not good enough to stay, and getting away from the abuse is a gut-wrenching one that is, in my experience, personally transforming on a very deep level.
It seems to me Overton asked herself this same question when writing the novel. Why wouldn’t Kristy just leave? She’s been a strong, capable single mother since she was a teenager. She’s fought every step of the way to provide her son with a shot at a better life. Why would a person like that not leave a someone who was breaking her down, destroying everything she’d worked so hard for?
Overton’s answer to that question took the reality of the situation and turned it into something campy, something that lacked believability. She underplayed working through Kristy’s decision to get herself out of the situation, and over played Kristy’s guilt after she’d done what she needed to do. I really did nottttt like the direction Kristy’s character development took – there was no celebration of freedom, no confidence in her decision, no turnaround to being the fighter that she had been before. This should have been a transformative event in Kristy’s life.
Granted, I’ve never killed anyone…that you know of…but Kristy was just too much of a blubbering mess. There should have been a sense of satisfaction at witnessing Lance’s demise, for the reader as well. If we’re already going off the rails of reality with this section of the book, might as well go all the way and leave Sad Sack Kristy behind.
To me, there was a serious misstep made in terms of what to give attention to in this novel. There should have been more suspense created with a deeper understanding of Lance’s ex-wives, and his past crimes, and less focus on the sad man writing Kristy letters on death row. There should have been more sinister atmosphere created by discovering things about Lance’s current personal ties and financial situation. He’s a Judo teacher/part-time realtor who can afford a brand new Jeep and SUV in one shot? Where the hell was Kristy’s investigative prowess to kick the tension up a notch? She should have been sneaking around, trying not to get caught, as she unravelled Lance’s bullshit and found confidence in her decision to end him.
Again, it just felt like this novel didn’t know what it wanted to be – a soapy drama or something thrilling.
Also, I do not believe for a second that there wasn’t a single person living under the same roof as Kristy, who didn’t notice something was wrong. I’ve lived it – someone always thinks something is different. Someone also notices a bruise you thought you covered up. Someone always notices the weight you’ve lost and the change in your personality. It doesn’t mean they do anything about it, but there’s not a chance in hell her father and son – two men who have lived with Kristy her whole life, didn’t notice the difference in their favourite person.
There is an interesting contrast created by having a person who works in the prison system becoming a criminal herself, but ultimately that was a theme which wasn’t finessed throughout the story, and instead was knocked over the reader’s head with Kristy’s very blatant questions to her father: “I’m a murderer! Aren’t you mad at me!?”
Ultimately, this novel had potential but it lost itself and didn’t leave me impressed.
book source: Redbook via Netgalley in exchange for a review.
Back of the Book:
From the author of Sunday Times bestseller and Richard & Judy Book Club pick, Baby Doll , comes a riveting thriller with domestic violence, murder and how far one woman will go to protect her family at its core.
What if murder was your only way out?
Single mom Kristy Tucker works as a press agent for the Texas Department of Corrections handling everything on death row from inmate interviews, to chronicling the last moments during an execution. Her job exposes Kristy to the worst of humanity and it’s one that’s beginning to take its toll.
So when Kristy meets Lance Dobson, her son’s martial arts instructor, she believes she’s finally found her happy ending. She’s wrong.
Kristy soon discovers that Lance is a monster. Forced to endure his verbal and physical abuse, Kristy is serving her own life sentence . . . unless she’s willing to take matters into her own hands. Perfectly poised to exploit the criminal justice system she knows so well, Kristy sets out to get rid of Lance – permanently.