A long, long time ago, also known as 2015, I read a book that reinvigorated my love of thrillers. Now, I’ve always loved reading thrillers, starting with the Australian crime anthology Shadow Alley many years ago. Combined with the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay, I knew I’d found a genre I could read and read and read. Before that, it was YA, which makes sense, considering I am a young adult. Before that, I loved my low-fantasy, courtesy of Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, etc. But you’re probably asking yourself why I’m talking about this. No? Well, the book I read was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Followed by The Widow by Fiona Barton in July of this year, I found myself a niche. Well, for the most part. My 2016 equivalent of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—i.e. the book I read approximately 80 pages before giving up—is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. You know, that novel that inspired this wave of women’s fiction/crime thrillers. Maybe I’ll have better luck with the movie. I struggled through roughly 50-80 pages of Gone Girl before admitting I couldn’t read any more. That doesn’t mean there’s anything thing wrong with it; it just means it wasn’t a book for me.
But…I’m getting a bit off the topic, aren’t I? The reason I’m bringing this up is because of the book I just finished reading. Funnily enough, the book I’m talking about isn’t considered a thriller, but it should. That book is The Missing Wife by Sheila O’Flanagan, released on June 16 this year. According to both Goodreads and Amazon, the book goes under women’s fiction and contemporary literature. I don’t get the “literary” label it also receives, however. I’m assuming the book receives those genres because the author, O’Flanagan usually writes women’s fiction. Funnily enough, the only reason I’d heard of it was because my mother mentioned it to me and the plot sounded interesting, so I borrowed it out from the library. The brief plot is this: Imogen Naughton has a perfect life and a perfect marriage with her husband of five years, Vince. So when she goes missing, everyone around her is shocked. However, what goes on between Vince and Imogen behind closed doors is not what it seems, leading Imogen to create The Plan, a way for her to escape from her life in Dublin, Ireland. On her journey to escape Vince, Imogen attempts to go back to the place that started her path to destruction—Hendaye in France. What she doesn’t know—as she starts her new life and discovers her path—is that Vince won’t just let her be, and he’ll try his best to find her.
The Missing Wife is a quick, engaging read. I finished this fascinating, thrilling novel in around two weeks, which is quick for a slow reader like myself. As Imogen started her new life in France, making friends and trying to banish Vince out of her mind, I was excited for her, while also reading to see if Vince would find her. The book is written mainly from Imogen’s third-person view, but also includes Vince, her friend Shona, her now-deceased mother Carol, her new boss Rene, Rene’s ex wife Celine, and more. The first three-quarters of the book is very thrilling and you’ll definitely want to keep reading as you discover more about Imogen’s childhood with mother Carol at the Villa Martine. The good thing is, this is revealed in snippets in between Imogen living her new life in Hendaye, crossed with Vince slowly making his way from Dublin closer and closer to finding her. This does hold a purpose, when it’s revealed that Imogen is at Hendaye to try and repair what she believes as an “indiscretion” in her past; something that made her unable to return to France for many years. However, her indiscretion is resolved before the end of the book, tying up that loose end before the main villain makes his entrance.
My main problem with the book is its neat, cosy ending. If you don’t like spoilers, you probably won’t have read this far anyway, but basically it boils down to Imogen and Vince finally having the confrontation O’Flanagan has built up over the previous 350 pages. However, my problem is with the way it’s resolved. Her friends come and save the day, help Imogen discover her personality again, and well…it’s all too picture-perfect. My problem is with Vince just going back to Dublin and everyone expecting it to stay that way. Imogen and Vince were in a terrifying emotionally abusive, controlling relationship. No way would Vince just go back to Dublin with a wounded ego and move on with his life. Emotionally manipulative men, especially narcissists and borderline sociopaths, would not just move on. That’s why he chased her to Dublin in the first place. He’d been betrayed by Shona, his pre-chosen friend for Imogen and a loyal lieutenant, so he relied on and relished his control of Imogen. That’s why you hear of so many abusive men attempting to kill their recently escaped partners. They can’t move on. They live off controlling others. Maybe it can be implied Vince just met some other poor sod who he groomed as a new Imogen, but that’s not really solving it. Now she’s off living in France with her new friends, trying to recover from five years of marriage, probably trying to deal with PTSD. Even though it implies Vince won’t be back due to his wounded ego, how can they be entirely sure? Maybe this is grounds for a sequel?
Other than that, I enjoyed reading The Missing Wife. The current book I’m reading is basically dry and full of drivel compared to O’Flanagan’s writing. I sympathised with Imogen, everything was described beautifully, and though I can’t really speak much French, she seemed to have put in the effort with everything from the language to the location. If O’Flanagan writes anything similar, I’d be glad to pick up a copy. The foreshadowing was great, Vince wasn’t just two-dimensional and cliched, and the side-characters were just as interesting as Imogen; for example, Rene and Celine, the exes and their friendly banter over not only Imogen, but also their relationship with each other and their businesses. I thought the two stereotypical Aussie girls who surf was a bit of an annoying cliche, but I suppose we’ve got to get used to it. Maybe I’ll visit this mythical “Australia” one day where everyone is blonde and surfing is our main sport (that’s actually fooooty, i.e. AFL or NRL). Carol, Imogen’s mother, and her relationship with the Delissandes’ was a revelation I completely expected, but it didn’t make it any less interesting. Shona was also an interesting character, manipulated and wound tightly by Vince, and her coming to grips with the truth her two best friends’ relationship was intriguing as well. Overall, The Missing Wife, while not strictly a thriller, is a great engaging read for fans of O’Flanagan, fans of Girl on the Train-type mysteries, and anyone who likes a cosy, quick read.