Second Life
S.J. Watson
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Buy *Second Life* by S.J. Watsononline

Second Life
S.J. Watson
416 pages
June 2015
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Second Life.

Itís easy to see what Watson is doing with this novel: cashing in on his hugely successful debut, Before I Go To Sleep. I expected another taut psychological exploration driven by the mystery, but Hitchcock this isn't. Second Life may be a page-turner of sorts, and Watson certainly kept me engaged until the final pages, yet nothing in the story rings true in a plot that is largely telegraphed and full of predictable revelations. Certainly anonymous hookups through social media can be both dangerous and thrilling, but they can also lead to true love. This author isn't concerned with romance as he throws everything into the stew: his heroine, Julia Plummerís lapse in sobriety after wrestling with the sudden murder of her sister, Kate in Paris, and Juliaís concern over Kateís teenage son, Connor, who sheís been raising with her husband, Hugh, a respected heart surgeon who has been working hard to give them all a stable life.

From the window of her privileged life in London, troubled alcoholic and ex-junkie Julia watches the world, remembering her old love, Marcus, and their wild time in Berlin years ago. She thinks about Kate and is unable to comprehend the terrible way she died. On Facebook, she connects with Anna, who introduces herself as Kateís flatmate. Anna tells Julia about Kateís penchant for hooking up with men on various dating sites, but Anna tells Julia the investigation is all ďdead ends.Ē Thereís still no motive for the crime. While the police keep drawing blanks, Julia canít stop thinking about what Kate might have said and what she might have done. After visiting Kateís chat rooms, a new type of desire builds in Julia when she meets Lukas, a stranger who sheís convinced might be able to give her some clues to Kateís murder. With her world soon ricocheting with passion in a series of sexy, furtive trysts, Julia feels fierce and desperate and alive in a line that is crossed with a raw and animal need: ďI want to feel used, like Iím nothing just sex, just pure light and air.Ē

Kinky, rough sex aside, what starts out as Juliaís pragmatic investigation into Kateís murder rapidly deteriorates into an incredibly unrealistic conclusion with characters behaving in ways and feeling emotions that bear no resemblance to actual human function. The other problem is that the novel is burdened by such unlikable characters, especially selfish, bored Julia, whose constant lying to herself and to everyone else quickly becomes irritating. Alternating scenes show Juliaís slow descent into paranoia as she lies to Hugh, who is himself distracted by troubles at work. Juliaís personality dominates every scene, this consummate adulterer. Also dominating is Machiavellian Lukas, who seems at first to capture every nuance of his new loverís needs. Juliaís online shenanigans only add to the chaos as she becomes ever-more anxious and vulnerable to Lukasís suggestions.

Still, itís unrealistic that Julia would constantly put herself into this kinds of situation. She might have the strength to remain sober, yet she constantly makes atrocious decisions, all the while acknowledging to herself variations on "I'm stupid" and "I shouldn't be doing this." This is a woman who has far too much time on her hands but no common sense, no boundaries, nor any emotional fortitude. The other characters are even more unbelievable, particularly Lukas, who seems to be a combination of sociopath and sexual aggressor, opining about his heartlessness while hiding from his dysfunction and secrecy.

From the opening pages, I felt manipulated by Watsonís muddied scenario. I do understand how Julia needed more sexual excitement, yes--Hugh is honest, loyal, and dependable, and I get that heís not sexually aggressive enough for her, but Julia strains credibility in her nonsensical devotion to a younger man who reveals little about himself and is obviously out to take whatever he can get. As Julia moves back and forth between current day (her boredom masquerading as her search for Kateís killer) and the many strange coincidences over the months (Lukasís purported stalking of her), events are made more dramatic by Annaís unexpected engagement to a mystery man and by Connorís sudden rebelliousness.

This could have been a much better read were it not for Julia doubting her own self-worth time after time, and her needy sexual desires become predictable. I loved the basic premise of the plot, but by the conclusion of the book, I didn't much care what happened. I also found myself trying to analyze the odds that half a dozen dysfunctional people would be drawn together on the same street in Paris in the rather hackneyed ending.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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