In hauntingly compelling prose, this wonderfully talented author deftly unfolds the story of what really happened to Hannah Reilly’s marriage, and how searching for—and uncovering—the truth will change the lives of both Hannah and her husband, Mark. Told in an intermittent flashback format where Hannah is always so tough and damaged, Whitehouse’s narrator describes the actions of Mark when he was courting his wife back in the heady days of New York.
The mystery encapsulating much of Hannah’s life is presented from the very first page. She’s at Heathrow Airport to meet Mark on a flight from New York, but when he doesn’t turn up she begins to feel the stab of annoyance that will come to characterize much of her psyche. Currently the CEO of a successful software company, Mark has been working long hours, but his busy routine seems reinforce Hannah’s frightening lack of awareness over her husband’s activities.
Disciplining herself, Hannah needs something to distract her from the growing sense that something is wrong. Unemployed for some time now, she’s depressed about her situation. She knows how difficult it is to get another job, especially like the one she had in New York. Amid all this stress, Hannah wonders at the developing “itchy feeling” even as she berates herself for being ridiculous. For now, anyway, Hannah simply refuses to let insecurity gnaw away at her marriage.
The subsequent chapters detail Hannah’s attempt—half-hearted at first—to get the answers she so desperately needs. Central to the story are Hannah’s mind games originating from a series of missed paperwork and several of Mark’s protracted lies. She becomes hysterical, perhaps trusting Mark when there was no reason not to. He’s someone who takes risks, but when he eventually calls her with a transparent excuse, Hannah finds herself in a hot sweep of panic, wondering whether Mark is perhaps embroiled in a love affair or perhaps some sort of shaky financial gamble.
Is Hannah a cheated-on wife, a deluded fool, and a powerless, unemployed idiot? Whitehouse manipulates the notions of honesty and trust as she plunges her heroine into a full-on dissection of her past life and her marriage. Central London and its surrounds (along with Fulham Road and boroughs of North London) become a tense backdrop as Hannah is forced to challenge her notion of reality. Whitehouse digs to Hannah’s very soul, and it is fascinating, disturbing, and memorable. When Mark’s old friend Hermione Alleyn, the primary witness in Mark’s past life, enters the story, events take a turn for the worse. Hannah finds herself buffeted by an anger so powerful it is incredible that no one among the scores of people in her life seem to feel it.
In this tale of sex and death among the young and glamorous, Mark’s brother Nick plays an essential part of the plot, as does the mysterious murder of his girlfriend, Patty Henrick. Whitehouse spends much capital on Nick’s status as the spoiled, younger child with a wild streak, but is Nick a hidden killer who has come back to muddy the crystalline marital waters of his brother? Scenes join the shifting, uncomfortable feeling Hannah has had since that morning at Heathrow, reinforcing the notion that something lurks at the fringe of her field of vision. She has to constantly shake her head to stem the images spilling from the dark corners of her mind.
Whitehouse’s approach is akin to blunt-force trauma. She doesn’t shrink from the ugly realities of Hannah’s marriage, the chaos of her not working and finding a mother who cannot cope with the daily burdens of estrangement from her sons. This is not a heart-pounding thriller but rather a more dark and plodding one. We know that denouement is just around the corner, and we hope that Hannah is going to get the information she wants as she confronts Mark’s family, workmates, and friends. Mark in turn makes the reader see how desperate he is to fit in and prove himself to Hannah as the story moves this tortured, angst-ridden man inexorably toward the unspeakable crimes at the center of the narrative.