Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Second Life.
It’s 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 Plummer’s lapse in sobriety after wrestling with the sudden murder of her sister, Kate in Paris, and Julia’s concern over Kate’s teenage son, Connor, who she’s 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 Kate’s flatmate. Anna tells Julia about Kate’s penchant for hooking up with men on various dating sites,
but Anna tells Julia the investigation is all “dead ends.” There’s still no motive for the crime. While the police keep drawing blanks, Julia can’t stop thinking about what Kate might have said and what she might have done. After visiting Kate’s chat rooms, a new type of desire builds in Julia when she meets Lukas, a stranger who she’s convinced might be able to give her some clues to Kate’s 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: “I want to feel used, like I’m nothing just sex, just pure light and air.”
Kinky, rough sex aside, what starts out as Julia’s pragmatic investigation into Kate’s 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 Julia’s slow descent into paranoia as she lies to Hugh, who is himself distracted by troubles at work. Julia’s personality dominates every scene, this consummate adulterer. Also dominating is Machiavellian Lukas, who seems at first to capture every nuance of his new lover’s needs. Julia’s online shenanigans only add to the chaos as she becomes ever-more anxious and vulnerable to Lukas’s suggestions.
Still, it’s 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 Watson’s muddied scenario. I do understand how Julia needed more sexual excitement, yes--Hugh is honest, loyal, and dependable, and I get that he’s 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 Kate’s killer) and the many strange coincidences over the months (Lukas’s purported stalking of her), events are made more dramatic by Anna’s unexpected engagement to a mystery man and by Connor’s 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.