My Husband's Wife
Jane Corry
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Buy *My Husband's Wife* by Jane Corryonline

My Husband's Wife
Jane Corry
Pamela Dorman Books
384 pages
January 2017
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Billed as an “addictive psychological thriller,” Corry’s novel fails to make an impact as it lurches from one unrealistic scenario to the next, each incident more unbelievable than the last. Throwing everything into her plot, Corry ends up weakening what could have been a compelling story about a marriage in crisis and the issues surrounding schoolyard bullying told from an Italian immigrant perspective.

The crux of the drama--the viscous stabbing of renowned artist Ed MacDonald--so unsettles his ex-wife, Lily, that she finds it impossible to accept the death of the man she had once loved. The reader barely has time to ponder Ed’s death when we are plunged into the life of Lily 15 years earlier, when she was a trainee criminal lawyer living with Ed in a one-bedroom flat in “the wrong part of Clapham.” Lily puts in multiple hours a day, working pro-bono to defend murderer Joe Thomas, convicted in 1998 of murdering his girlfriend Sara Evans. Meanwhile, Ed tries in vain to focus on his drawing, determined to make it as a painter in London’s competitive art world. Ed’s big break comes when he and Lily meet Carla, the little Italian girl who lives in the flat next door. While Lily’s mother, Francesca, entertains a man called Larry who comes to visit her in his fancy sports car, Carla attempts to find comfort in her pet velvet caterpillar pencil case. The case is a way to ease the terrible bullying Carla’s getting at school.

The novel starts out well with Lily paying Joe a visit, laying all her legal cards on the table. She is initially wary of this handsome, charismatic man who sets her a series of puzzles in order to test her ability. Joe has decided to plead innocent, convinced that the jury made a mistake in convicting him. Instead of doing the right thing and ditching the case, our rookie lawyer--under pressure from her boss--digs her heels in, deciding to defend Joe even when she’s not a hundred percent positive he’s innocent. Lily is both attracted to and unnerved by Joe, especially when he claims to have unexplainable knowledge about her private life. As Joe’s trial unfolds, Lily realizes that she’s picked the wrong sort of client, one able to provide strange insights into her career and her marriage to Ed.

Francesca is too obsessed and needy to pay attention to her daughter’s emotional needs. She’s absorbed with setting up house with Larry and wants to get him to pay for a better school for Carla, but Larry refuses to leave his wife and family for her. Francesca’s home is in an uproar, her painstakingly rebuilt life in England in danger of collapsing. As arguments with Larry become more impassioned, Francesca asks Lily and Ed to periodically mind Carla. It doesn’t help that Lily finds herself in desperate need of having someone to talk to, someone who can give her advice about Ed, who has started drinking heavily and has recently descended into cold, obsessive behavior.

The melodrama ratchets up in the second half. Carla arrives back in London after she and Francesca were exiled back to Italy. Now twenty-one, with killer looks that stop men in their tracks, Carla goes on the hunt for Lily and Ed--especially Lily, whom Carla blames for sabotaging her mother’s life with Larry. Everything builds up to a final confrontation during which Lily and Carla make a series of bad choices. Swapping roles, the women step thoughtlessly into a slippery quagmire of uncompromising and stupid situations, blindly following Ed as he tries to kickstart his career by using “the Italian girl all grown up.” Joe, meanwhile, skulks away in the shadows, keeping a beady eye on Lily, always doing just enough to save his own skin by confessing to Lily that he’s secretly in love with her.

Corry’s novel explores compelling themes: the pitfalls of the British legal system, the supposed guilt or innocence of a killer, and issues of Asperger syndrome, which have a devastating effect on Lily and on her longsuffering parents. Any potential in My Husband's Wife is mostly wasted by Lily and Carla’s lack of self-awareness as they blunder through one event after another. I liked the bloody climax, in which Corry finally ties up all the loose ends surrounding Ed’s murder. Both women are eventually vindicated, albeit left scarred, battered, and emotionally bruised, but by then, the novel’s obvious outrageousness had finally caught up with me.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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