Samantha is a schoolteacher, and to say that she is unhappy in her work would be an understatement. As she presides over a violent and potentially criminal separation from her wimpish boyfriend, she is hooked into a social media storm centred on the imminent execution of Dennis Danson, a Florida man who has been accused, tried and convicted of the murder of a teenage girl. Danson has a fervent and vocal set of social-media followers. There is only circumstantial evidence to connect him to the killing, yet the court has pronounced him guilty, and so he resides in that most gruesome of thoroughfares, Death Row
Samantha kicks into touch her recent romantic travails, and begins an online relationship with the condemned man. Dennis writes back to her, and senses that Sam is not just another execution groupie with a bizarre fascination for a notorious criminal. Sam decides that her future is inextricably entwined with that of Dennis, and she uses a recent bequest to finance a trip to the USA. Breathless and uncertain, she finally meets the man of her dreams, albeit on the wrong side of a protective screen at Altoona Prison. Sam and Dennis officially become man and wife, in a cruel parody of the normal wedding ceremony
Amy Lloyd (right) makes sure that fans of Southern Noir who enjoy a tumbledown and gothicky old house in the Florida badlands are not disappointed. If you enjoy the odd sinister Sheriff, townsfolk who don’t hold grudges for much more than eighty years, and mentally disturbed teenagers in the body of a forty year-old man, you will not come away empty handed. But The Innocent Wife is much more subtle. As we follow the tortuous marriage of Sam and Dennis, we are reminded of the shocking consequences of ill-advised relationships forged on the flimsy anvil of whichever social media platform is currently in vogue. A chilling wind of truth blows through the narrative as we realise that the inch-thick perspex that separates prisoners from their visitors is a compelling metaphor for the separation which exists between people who only communicate via Facebook or Instagram.
One of the most obvious paradoxes about reading psychological crime thrillers is that we come to expect the unexpected. It becomes less a matter of a surprise twist being a possibility, but more trying to work out who or what is going to provide the statutory jolt, and when it will occur. In The Innocent Wife it is a given that Sam will come to regret falling for Dennis Danson. Or will she? The final pages are exquisitely subtle and – even if this sounds like one of the more bizarre utterances of George W Bush – Amy Lloyd doesn’t give us quite the surprise that we were expecting.
The Innocent Wife is out now in Kindle and hardback. The paperback edition will be available in summer.