With the skill of a puppetmaster, Chaney takes a highly intelligent sociopath who leaves a tangled web of clues for both the police and this disturbed person's prime victim. In September 1995 in Madison, Wisconsin, Janice loved Matt, but she has realized that "love's got teeth and claws"--that once it hitches you, it's too tough to rip yourself free. Working the graveyard shift at the Magnolia Senior Citizen Home, Janice thinks she should have married her boss, shy, quiet Jess. It's such a big deal if the man you've been married to for only a year is sleeping with another woman behind your back.
In these early short chapters, Chaney gives us a quick peek at the beginning of Matt and Janice's marriage as well as the giant shift that comes when Janice comprehends that she's done making it work. Janice is in fact dead and there's every outside indication that Matt killed her. As secrets from their marriage are revealed, Chaney paints a Machiavellian portrait of Matt, a man who prides himself on achieving the American dream but who, in reality, is narcissistic and abusive, far more concerned about image than honesty.
In 2018, Matt is married to Marie. They're currently hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado. For years, Marie has been subservient to Matt. She suspects that Matt has put her neatly aside for a younger woman:
maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he was lying... When you had no education, no job experience, hardly any life experience, this is how you ended up: dealing with your husband's crap.
Chaney's murder-drama fuses the fast-paced, no-nonsense approach to crime procedurals with the grim, wonderfully nuanced appeal of a failed marriage that features two detectives, Marion Spengler and Ralf Loren (who featured in Chaney's terrific first book, What You Don't Know). Marion and Ralf are charged with investigating Marie's death after she tumbles off the cliff into Three Forks River. Dangerous hikes and inexperienced hikers are certainly "a bad combo."
Matt admits that he didn't actually seen Marie fall, but he heard her scream and shrieks. Just when we almost decide that Matt is guilty--"a wife killer"--Marie reveals some nasty secrets of her own. Back and forth, the narrative swings from the events of 1995 to the events of 2018. Yes, Matt is selfish, but does Marie also possess psychotic and narcissistic tendencies? Spengler and Loren operate at the core of Chaney's narrative in that murky territory between commonplace and evil. The wintry city of Denver, Colorado is sharply contrasted with the wild beauty of Three Forks River, and the discovery of a body that isn't Marie's.
Detective Ortiz arrives in Colorado to investigate an open homicide case. He wants to ask Marion a few questions about Loren. Ortiz is convinced that Matt murdered a family of three and buried them in shallow graves. Marion is good, in fact better than Loren, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. She is a petite investigator, a macho, hardworking veteran who stashes her emotions in a box to nail Matt. She's a curious mix of scattered theory and laser-focused intuition. Next to her, Loren often looks like a stray dog.
Back at Three Forks River, Marion sees two different crime scenes. Matt bridges the gap, connecting the crimes into a circle, then back to Janice and Marie who are both haunted by Matt's affairs. The raw, ribald dialogue of the Loren's fellow detectives are bone-chillingly authentic and provide comic relief. Reaching all the way back to that night in 1995, we finally see grizzled Detective Reid (his gaze watery and red-rimmed, but still coldly watchful), waiting for Matt to admit that he killed his wife.
As Long as We Both Shall Live is a dazzling brew of people at their worst, the twisted and the duplicitous, and a wife who may well be a calculating killer intent on keeping her husband hostage.