book: Beautiful Bad (2019) by Annie Ward

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The cops are called to a house in a small Kansas town where they find a traumatized child and two traumatized women, one of whom bears the marks of a violent attempted strangulation. There’s also a dead man in the basement. What could have happened?

The two women are longtime best friends Maddie and Jo. The child is Maddie’s son Charlie. The dead man is Maddie’s husband Ian. What the cops soon piece together is that Ian, a military veteran of too many combat zones and suffering from PTSD, flew into a vodka-enhanced fury and tried to murder Jo, whereupon Maddie stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife to safe her friend’s life.

Case open and shut? Not quite . . .

I admire very much the ambitious structure of this book. Most of the tale is narrated by Maddie, although we get a few chapters in the third person focusing on Ian and rather more chapters, again in the third person, following the investigating officer, Dian Vega, as she explores the scene of the crime and after. More significantly, the telling is far from chronological: Those chapters featuring Diane Vega are in the here and now, another timeline concerns Maddie’s exploits in the weeks leading up to the killing and her experiences with her therapist Cami J, and yet another relates to events many years ago, beginning when Maddie and Jo first met Ian and then following the very protracted courtship of Maddie and Ian. I never had the slightest difficulty reacclimatizing myself to each new timeline when it reappeared, yet at the same time felt refreshed by the fact that I was being bounced around by the narrative.

At the same time, though, I spent a lot of the time feeling annoyed that I was being so obviously manipulated. I knew from the outset that what seemed plain from the evidence at the scene of the crime was not in fact going to be the truth of what happened: it’s obvious that this is That Kind of Book. It was also pretty blatant that Maddie would be an unreliable narrator: if I had any doubts on that they’d have been washed away by the puffs on the back of my ARC from various Park Row staffers comparing the book to The Girl on the Train, Tangerine and The Woman in the Window (although, astonishingly, not Gone Girl or Big Little Lies!).

I haven’t read the last of these three, The Woman in the Window, but I’ve read quite a few others in the modern school of twisty-turny domestic/psychological suspense, to the point that they’ve begun to seem a bit yada yada — that it’s the novels without the requisite twists and turns and obfuscations and unreliable narrators that seem original and challenging to me. I’d say Beautiful Bad is a more than competent, above average addition to the school, and it’s certainly pretty well written and far from boring; it’s likely that it was my jadedness with the subgenre rather than any fault of the author’s that I couldn’t get too excited by it.

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My ARC came to me courtesy of Lesa at Lesa’s Book Critiques. Many thanks, Lesa!

2 thoughts on “book: Beautiful Bad (2019) by Annie Ward

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