Another book from my How Novel subscription. Again a surprise of sorts, and again a book I probably wouldn’t buy on my own. I enjoy crime and thrillers but usually default to a list of authors I trust. Not to mention that I rarely buy this genre in paper, selecting Kindle as the greener option in this case.
We get to know the story from two sources: our narrator, the psychotherapist, and Alicia Berenson’s diary. Alicia is a painter accused, six years previously, of killing her husband, Gabriel. She didn’t defend herself and never denied the accusation because she stopped speaking after the event and has not uttered a word since.
Currently residing at the Grove mental institution she becomes an obsession of our narrator. He thinks that given a chance he could get Alicia to talk. What is more, he firmly believes in her innocence and desperately wants to help her. And six years after the murder he gets his chance, obtaining a position at the Grove.
A little bit more about our narrator. He is a damaged individual himself. Recovered, but bruised by his life nonetheless. One of those people who choose psychology to help mostly themselves. And it worked, he has a stable job, a wife who he loves madly, and a passion project in the form of Alicia Berenson’s case.
As the story unfolds we learn about Alicia’s past, but also about our narrator’s background. Their characters fully fleshed out in all their complexities. The plot may not move at breakneck speed, but why would it? It’s been six years since the murder and the culprit is locked up. Where’s the rush? Instead, we get the sense of something niggling. Something is off with all the relationships in this book. Some underlying flaw in reasoning that on the surface is impeccable.
To add to this growing sense of unease the story of Alcestis comes into the picture. Literally. After the murder, Alicia paints an autoportrait with the word ‘Alcestis’ written on it. In Greek mythology, Alcestis is the wife of Admetus. He has been granted immortality, but on one condition, someone has to agree to die for him. His parents refuse, but his wife Alcestis agrees. She dies but later is led out of Hades by Heracles. Admetus rejoices at having his beloves wife back, but she never utters another word. Euripides turned the story into a play, which is now one of the lesser-known Greek tragedies.
The modern setting, underlying tension, and Greek tragedy motives come together nicely in Michaelides’ hands. As much as the plot moves slowly, the twists thrown at us keep us on our toes. It is rare for a thriller to surprise me as much as this one did.
If you’re looking for a book that will give you a few hours respite from the pandemic 2020 then this may be the solution. It does not make any claims to being high literature but certainly is good entertainment.