The Widower's Wife
Cate Holahan
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Buy *The Widower's Wife* by Cate Holahanonline

The Widower's Wife
Cate Holahan
Crooked Lane Books
304 pages
August 2016
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Ever since Holahanís first novel, Dark Turns, Iíve been anxiously waiting for her follow-up. The Widower's Wife doesnít disappoint. Fast-moving and with multiple twists and turns, the novel begins when private insurance investigator Ryan Monahan comes to the home of Tom Bacon to enquire about the sudden death of Ana Bacon, Tomís 31-year-old wife, who suffered a fatal accident on a Caribbean cruise. Thereís little chance of finding Ana alive; disappeared in the open ocean.

Like ďa fouled basketball player,Ē Tom seems curt and distracted, far from the grief-stricken husband that he pretends to be. As the ghost of Ana calls out to him, he tells the increasingly suspicious Monahan that he promises to never give up hope that his wife is still alive. Tom is anxious to learn about the status of the 10-million-dollar life insurance policy taken out on Ana months before she disappeared--even though the policy is still in a two-year contestability period. Tom tells Ryan that he and Ana purchased the coverage so that their baby daughter, Sophia, would be taken care of. For Tom, the fact that Ana is deceased should be enough evidence for Monahanís company to start processing the claim, though he has not come specifically to pay the benefit.

Holahan unfolds a dark and subversive thriller written from the perspective of Ryan as he undertakes his ruthless investigation ando from the first-person narrative of Ana in the weeks leading up to the planned trip (ďIím worth more dead than alive"). Ryan's statistics-laden subconscious tells him that Ana's death was no accident. While the shipís security caught Anaís fall, a few seconds of footage isnít enough to prove the circumstances of her demise. After leaving Tomís multi-million-dollar French-style McMansion, and then learning about Tomís career as a shamed Wall Street banker, Ryan is plagued by an unanswered question: What happened behind those blinds to make a young mother desperate enough to jump ship?

In tight prose that propels the plot forward and with flawed, vulnerable characters, Holahan contrasts Ryan (ďa number's man, part detective and part mathematician who prides himself on his ability to make informed decisionsĒ) with Ana, who struggles to make ends meet as she begins to doubt the love of her husband. The Baconsí extensive debt--the house, the cars, the nursery school, and little Sophiaís ballet lessons--become the catalyst leading Ana into Tomís fraudulent and devious behavior. At first the plan seems solid, perhaps a way to keep the creditors at bay. It doesnít take long for things to fall apart.

Tom's alibi and the anecdotal comments from the cruise-goers are all that is needed to claim "no evidence of foul play.Ē And Ryan isnít prepared to confront a grieving widower about his dead wife's possible infidelity. Ryan, however, needs to know Tomís suspicions about Michael Smith, Anaís shady boss, before confronting him over hiding the true reasons behind Ana's departure from her job as an administrative assistant. From the threat of Ana going ďthe suicide route,Ē Ryan watches Tomís face for flickers of rage and recognition. Ryan canít picture Tom as the callous wife-beater Ana's Brazilian parents claim him to be. Thereís also the mysterious appearance of Tomís glamorous redhead female friend, whose motivations remain mystery. While the days before Anaís disappearance continue to be shrouded in layers of suspicion and innuendo, Tom gives Ryan nothing, then threatens a legal challenge to any suicide-related denial of benefits. Anaís prime mission, meanwhile, is to secure her parents' safety as well as Tomís sanity and Sophiaís future without sacrificing her life as she knows it: ďI'd clung to Tom's promise to take everything and return to the way it was when weíd been rich.Ē

As this is Anaís life told in triplicate, we experience every detail from her perspective, every revelation and anxious moment to whatever her future (and her past) might hold. Thanks to the inevitable thriller story wrench, Holahanís novel is strafed with menace that constantly circles back to the missing Ana and to Ryanís efforts to chase the truth behind a soured affair, as well as his doubts about Tom, a man determined to icepick a hole right through the memory of his wife.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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