Century | 2017 (ebook 6 October; Hb 28 December) | 356p | Review copy | Buy the book
Dennis Danson has been on Death Row for over twenty years for the murder of the child Holly Michaels. Her mutilated body was found dumped in a swamp ten miles from her home in Red River County, Florida. Danson was himself just a teen at the time and the evidence was, to say the least, nebulous and so, with his movie star looks and charm, he has become the favourite of true crime documentary makers as well as fans who campaign for his release. When Mark shows his girlfriend Samantha, a school teacher in England, a documentary about Dennis Danson she becomes hooked on the man and on his case and soon she is lost in the online message boards and forums of his campaigners. She writes to him, he writes back. Samantha leaves her life in England behind to meet and then marry this convicted murderer.
And then the campaign succeeds. Dennis is released and now Samantha must make a life with a husband she barely knows. She has so much to learn…
The Innocent Wife has a fantastic premise and draws on that curious phenomenon of the lonely women who fall for men convicted of the worst of crimes. While the safety glass remains between the couple all is well, everything is managed and controlled, but when it is withdrawn and the convict is freed, suddenly trust becomes an issue. For them both, because we have much to learn about the motivations of Samantha as well as Dennis.
This is a dark psychological thriller that grips instantly and I read it all in half a day. It kept me up until well into the night because I simply had to know what was going to happen. Amy Lloyd expertly builds up the suspense and tension as Samantha learns more and more about the man that she has fallen in love with but hardly knows. And vice versa as well. Danson not only has to deal with freedom and life outside a prison for the first time in his adult life, he must also cope with the demands of a hungry media as well as living with Samantha. This raises all sorts of questions about what it is that makes couples compatible, the need for compromise and tolerance, and it is absolutely fascinating watching strangers marry. It’s the little things that often cause the arguments. But for Danson and Samantha there is so much more to contend with. It makes for a compelling read.
Samantha is ridiculously naive and compulsive and not at all easy to like. We see much of the story through her perspective and it does little to win us over to her, while it keeps Danson as an enigmatic and handsome stranger hidden in the shadows. But I did realise that these flaws in Samantha’s character are part of the point. She is lonely and isolated. She is susceptible and obsessive. And that’s why she flies across the ocean to Danson. But I didn’t care for her or Danson, although Danson’s predicament at times appears pitiable. The reader is an observer, detached yet incredulous of what we witness.
I did predict much of the plot. Some of the clues were a little too obvious and parts (particularly the beginning and the end) felt too rushed – all contributing to the rollercoaster pace of the novel – but that didn’t stop me gobbling it up. The speed did mean that this isn’t a book to dwell upon but for a holiday read An Innocent Wife did very well indeed.