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Review: The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

When his wife is killed in an unlikely accident, Adrian Wolfe is left, to his anguish, alone. This isn’t the first time his life has been overturned (she was his third wife, after all), but it’s the first time that he wasn’t the one in control. When he’d left his first wife and two children, he’d done so with the conviction that it was for love, to be with his second wife and have three more beautiful children. That same conviction had led him to Maya. They had been happy. They were trying for a baby. Everyone from his first wife to his latest child was so encouraging, or so it seemed. He and Maya had a long road ahead which Adrian had already mapped perfectly and now this. This wasn’t supposed to happen; someone had to be responsible.

Despite his grief, when a mysterious and captivating woman seeks him out under the pretense of adopting his late wife’s cat, Adrian takes notice. He’s not the only one. Members of his patchwork family have noticed the woman popping up since Maya’s death, but just as they’re piecing things together, she disappears. With the lines separating accident and intent growing blurrier by the day, Adrian is determined to get to the bottom of things. Doing so forces him to unpack his own baggage and see what really lies beyond his rose-colored glasses; a resentful son who he hasn’t seen in months, a daughter binging on comfort foods, violent emails, a long line of strained family outings and his wife’s own muted protestations. Adrian’s investigation leads him to wonder just how inscrutable Maya’s death had been after all. 

Through the Wolfe family, Lisa Jewell has crafted an intricate puzzle containing all of the classic elements of a whodunit (complete with clues, motives and characters exonerated one by one) while retaining the complex facets of real people. With such a far reaching and tangled familial web, the suspects were practically endless, but never were they obvious. While the story’s premise was entertaining and moved forward at a clip, I wasn’t always impressed with the individual characters. Their dialogue was peppered with bits of grating teenage slang even among the thirty-somethings (“What. Ever”) and even in the case of an unexplained death, they indulged too readily in melodrama. Then again, while these traits might not be likeable, they make each person all the more genuine. This is especially true in the case of Adrian. Just like his two ex-wives and five children, you want so badly to like him that you just do, despite all his mistakes and that is what lies at the heart of the novel; a flawed man trying to make sense of the life he’s upended so badly without ever allowing himself to realize it. It’s all unveiled so subtly that it gets to be a page turner. By part two you’re forced to bore right through it, making this one a great weekend read to swallow up in one gulp.

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