Book review: The Wife by Alafair Burke

When Angela Mullen married brilliant New York University economics professor Jason Powell after a whirlwind romance, she believed she had found the perfect husband.
The Wife by Alafair BurkeThe Wife by Alafair Burke
The Wife by Alafair Burke

But now a young woman intern at the college has made a sexual harassment allegation against Jason and Angela’s carefully created, comfortable world is starting to unravel. How far is she prepared to go to protect him?

In the timely standalone follow-up to her Edgar-nominated novel, The Ex, American author Alafair Burke delivers an addictive and emotionally complex thriller that explores resonant contemporary issues like family life, social media, celebrity obsession and sex crime with her trademark forensic eye and powerful psychological insight.

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The Wife is domestic noir at its very best as a seemingly perfect marriage gradually erodes under the weight of suspicion, accusations and public scrutiny, but this is a true rollercoaster ride with plenty of chilling surprises as Burke’s labyrinthine plot uncovers far more than the reader could ever have imagined.

Twenty-four-year-old Angela met Jason while doing the catering at a dinner party in upmarket East Hampton but assumed their romance would be just a short-lived fling, like so many relationships between locals and summer visitors.

To her surprise, Jason, a brilliant economics professor at NYU, had genuinely fallen in love with her and they married the following summer. For Angela, the marriage turned out to be a chance to reboot her troubled life. She and her six-year-old son Spencer were finally able to move out of her mother’s home to Manhattan where no one knew about her tragic past.

Six years later, thanks to a bestselling book and a growing media career, Jason has become not just ‘a political and cultural icon’ but also a celebrity, placing Angela near the spotlight which she has worked so hard to avoid.

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When blonde, attractive college intern Rachel Sutton makes a sexual allegation to the police against Jason, and another woman, Kerry Lynch, comes forward with an even more serious claim, their perfect life starts to disintegrate.

Jason insists he is innocent, and Angela believes him but when Kerry disappears, Angela is forced to take a closer look… at both the man she married and the women she has chosen not to believe. Will she stand by his side, even if he drags down both her and Spencer with him?

Burke excels at analysis – whether that be legal, emotional or psychological – and this sizzling, simmering, serpentine thriller sees the former prosecutor turned acclaimed author on her very best form.

The Wife is a tale in which a woman must make the seemingly impossible choice between defending her husband and saving herself, but the narrative runs deeper and darker because there are lies lurking beneath the surface, a narrator who may not be reliable, and a past that holds shocking secrets.

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It is always best to expect the unexpected in Burke’s powerful and riveting novels but the bombshells she drops here are jaw-dropping and the dénouement is a corker. A delicious treat for all crime fiction fans…

(Faber, paperback, £12.99)