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  • Mandy McHugh

The Last Wife, Karen Hamilton: A Review

I really enjoyed The Perfect Girlfriend. Graydon House puts out some excellent titles, and I was excited to receive an eARC of Karen Hamilton's latest.

Following the death of her best friend, Marie is trying to uphold the dying promise she made: to help her friend's husband, Stuart, protect their children. Resolved in her duty, heads in the community turn as Marie begins living with Stuart, and what starts as an innocent promise in the midst of grief turns into an unexpected pregnancy with a plethora of drama. Complicating matters is the mysterious return of an estranged friend, and the further Marie digs into why she's returned, the more she's convinced her intentions are more than what they appear to be. There's a lot to unpack here. Starting with the characters, Marie is a deliciously unreliable narrator. For the first half of the book, you don't know if she's obsessive with a dark secret or if she's telling the truth, and the circumstances around her decisions aren't that nefarious. I loved how Hamilton developed her character, and while I didn't like her at any given point in the novel, I found her interesting and tortured. Aside from her, however, none of the characters are remotely relatable. One dimensional or predictable or underdeveloped, I wasn't a fan of her husband--who definitely has his own issues with control and affection--the children, the community, or the other bit players. Everyone has a motive to lie and secrets to keep, and I loved the complex layers Hamilton brought to the plot. However, what kept me from that five-star range was the disjointed feeling. Midway through, the narrative takes a sharp turn into mystery, switching focus from Maria and her complicated history (and present) with Nina and her family directly into a decade's old murder mystery about the fate of an ex-boyfriend. This might've felt more relevant if I believed Charlie held any more credence in her life than Ben, but the way it's structured to make you guessing Marie's reliability, I didn't get the sense that he mattered as much in the long run. Stuart was her focus, her desire to have a baby, and to have the gears shift into the destruction of her first love and the fallout from that event felt awkward. I got the sense that she needed an obsession, replacing them when her goal for said obsession is attained, but that was a flimsy rationale, and ultimately, I found myself wishing the plot had veered solely into the mysterious note sender territory and the effect it has on her new family. Overall, Hamilton's exploration of grief, envy, and lost dreams is a gripping read with a cast of unlikable characters. If you like your suspense spanning the course of a lifetime with a suburban domestic flair, The Last Wife will be an excellent choice for you. Thank you to NetGalley and Graydon House for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

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