The Pocket Wife
Susan Crawford
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Buy *The Pocket Wife* by Susan Crawfordonline

The Pocket Wife
Susan Crawford
William Morrow
320 pages
March 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Pocket Wife.

Dana Catrell is essentially a distraction as a major player in the tableau of a murdered New Jersey housewife, teacher Celia Steinhauser, Dana’s neighbor and putative “best” friend. Afflicted with manic depression that sometimes takes over her life without medication, Dana senses herself dangerously spiraling with Celia’s death. Both women were intoxicated on too much sangria in the afternoon, but Dana is vague on more specifics of their final encounter. She vaguely remembers an argument in response to a questionable photo Celia displays on her cell phone: Dana’s husband, Peter, sharing a very cozy lunch with his secretary. Peter catches Celia in the act, Celia claiming “Peter looked at me like he’d slit my throat if he had the chance.” Afterwards, Dana stumbles home, oblivious until she hears the approaching sirens and the news that Celia is dead. The last person to see Celia alive, Dana wonders if she has killed her neighbor.

Jack Moss, the detective assigned to the case, prepares to interview the major players, including Celia’s husband, Ronald, Peter Catrell, a neighbor washing his car, and eventually Dana, as Celia’s last known visitor. Unaware as yet of any motives behind the murder, Jack wants all the facts he can gather before settling on a suspect, curious about Ronald Steinhauser and Peter Catrell, tangentially aware of Dana’s fragile state. Meanwhile Dana initiates her own investigation--checking her husband’s cell phone, searching Ronald’s hotel room--her escalating mania rendering her increasingly paranoid. When she spies someone in a hoodie watching her from her backyard, Dana can’t decide if this is a real threat or a figment of her imagination.

Crawford covers the holes in Dana’s story that can’t be explained by her medical condition (manic depressives don’t have black-outs) with intoxication, the drinking an excuse for the holes in her memory of the afternoon. Dana’s accelerating instability also provides a scapegoat for Peter’s infidelity, her erratic behavior the perfect foil. After caring for an unstable wife for years, what man wouldn’t be susceptible to an affair now and then? Meanwhile, Dana falls into the stereotype her actions endorse, taking off at all hours of the night from her suburban New Jersey home to drive the streets of Manhattan, spending hours at a coffee shop where a waitress/friend assures Dana she isn’t a murderer.

A little diversity is added in the character of Detective Moss, who’s complicated past bleeds into the murder case when his addict- son, trying to mend his ways, takes a GED class from the victim, Celia Steinhauser, the teacher sometimes offering a ride home. Already burdened with two ex-wives and the problems of a broken family to distract him from the investigation, Moss is relentlessly hounded for progress reports by ambitious assistant prosecutor Lenora White. The promise of a quick arrest aids her career trajectory. Jack refuses to be railroaded, even by the beautiful and seductive Lenora, determined to ferret out the secrets of those obviously hiding things from him. As denials and lies multiply, Jack’s attentiveness to detail begins to bear fruit, a bonanza of subtle lies and betrayals that run beneath the façade of Celia’s idyllic suburban neighborhood.

While Dana Catrell isn’t a memorable protagonist, she does fit perfectly the role of a red herring. Crawford portrays other potential suspects with some imagination, Jack Moss the most consistently empathetic character, sorting through the detritus to reveal a devious killer who nearly escapes unscathed. The title proves, in the end, to be particularly apt: "Pocket wife" refers to Peter’s habit of putting his cell in his pocket while speaking with his wife, effectively shutting her up. He continues to ignore Dana except when convenient, the same way that Crawford uses the behavior of a crazed woman when necessary, then puts her away until the next time.

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

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