Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Poison.
Cassandra Connor is living the dream in a happy marriage (her second chance at the brass ring), Ryan a loving stepfather to ten-year-old Alice and eight-year-old Pete. The family unit is further cemented by two-year-old Sam, who completes the happy scenario. Cass is still madly in love with her handsome husband, the tribe recently settled in Madrona, near Seattle, Washington, where they are renovating their house. Occasionally, the family escapes to a vacation cabin Ryan has been given by his mother.
Much of Cass's day is devoted to a busy woman’s schedule, the evenings complete when architect Ryan returns home to complete the family, “the daily dose of domestic life rolls on… until it ceases to function.” It is here, in her messy new house, that Cass begins to question the smooth machinery of life with Ryan, a vague, wearisome note of discord. Long secure in the belief that “Ryan is her antidote and she is his better judgment,” Cass is rattled by the slight undercurrent of discontent that has crept into their lives, as well as Ryan’s resistance to her demands for better communication.
Marital bliss slides into an unhealthy pattern of evening bickering. Husband and wife grow distant in the midst of domestic chaos in an unfinished remodel, leaving Cass awake while Ryan slumbers, her brain spinning with unanswered questions. Aptly titled Poison, the novel turns from joy to suspicion, the common malady of a marriage in trouble. The title "Poison," whether psychological or literal, takes root as partners become foes and Cassandra’s world turns upside-down. Until battle lines are drawn, the couple seems like any other modern union. Ryan is stressed by work and unwilling to entertain his wife’s complaints, but Cassandra is unable to ignore the blooming distrust of her perfect partner.
Helpless victim to the passion that has fueled their union, “that she misses him is only proof of the depth of his degeneration.” Trapped between loving thoughts and horrifying suspicions, Cass is wound as tightly as the sheets of the marital bed after a sleepless night. It is the author’s task to sell an unusual storyline without sacrificing believability. In essence, she erects a home on the edge of ruin, a house of cards leaning towards disaster, a complicated game of cat-and-mouse with deadly consequences if Cass’s assumptions prove accurate. Though Neiderhoffer spends too little time on the destruction of Cassandra’s marital contentment, the battle, once engaged, is heavy with recrimination. While not every occurrence seems believable, Poison is a fine distraction, accelerating toward a dramatic confrontation that, while stretching credulity, is deeply satisfying.