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.
I was lucky enough to receive an invite to Crimenight, an event hosted by Cornerstone, which is part of the Penguin group and one of the most successful commercial imprints in the UK. It was a chance to rub shoulders and swap yarns with some of the biggest names in crime fiction – and a couple of people who have a foot on the first rungs of the ladder.
Back L-R: John Harvey, Phil Redmond, Anthony Horowitz, Tony Parsons, Simon Kernick
Front L-R: Araminta Hall, Selina Walker (Publisher, Century and Arrow), Amy Lloyd, Lisa Jewell
Getting the celebrity name-drop out of the way first, it was brilliant to be able to shake hands and chat with Tony Parsons, one of my favourite current UK crime writers – check out the review of his most recent Max Wolfe novel Die Last, and you can see why. He is a genuinely nice guy and right up at the top of my list. Was I starstruck? Well, yes, just a little, because in addition to Tony, John Harvey, the creator of Charlie Resnick and Frank Elder, was in attendance, as was thriller specialist Simon Kernick, award-winning producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond (Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks look pretty good on his CV),and Lisa Jewell, who has a string of best-selling domestic thrillers like The Third Wife and I Found You under her belt. You can win a copy of her latest, Then She Was Gone, at the end of this feature.
The amazingly versatile Anthony Horowitz was another of the guests who has featured on Fully Booked before. Horowitz, as well as having millions of us glued to the small screen on Sunday nights with his brilliant Foyle’s War series, and writing the best selling Alex Rider novels aimed at young adults, has also written Sherlock Holmes adventures and stand-alone CriFi. Take at a look at our review of The Word Is Murder, his most recent novel.
It was a privilege to talk to two authors who represent the next generation of fine crime writers. Amy Lloyd is from Cardiff, but her debut novel is set far, far away in the badlands of Florida. The Innocent Wife tells the story of a convicted killer whose claims to innocence attract the attentions of the worldwide media – and those of Samantha, a young woman from England. She is obsessed with his case and, after an intense relationship based on letters, she leaves home and marries him. It is only when the campaign for his release is successful that Samantha’s problems begin in a deadly fashion. Amy, by the way, has already won the Daily Mail and Penguin Random House First Novel Competition with The Innocent Wife.
Araminta Hall is no novice author, as she has written successful psychological thrillers such as Everything and Nothing. Her latest novel Our Kind Of Cruelty is due to be published in 2018, and it concerns a couple, Mike and Verity, whose relationship features a deadly game called the Crave. Mike describes the rules:
“The rules of the Crave were very simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a pre-determined place a good way from where we lived, but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart to seem that we weren’t together, but close enough that I could always keep her in vision.”
Verity basically makes herself very visible, catching the eyes of any lone male who might be interested, and then drawing him into her web with her stunning looks and overt sexuality. Then, the game kicks in:
“We have a signal: as soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears around her neck I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he was doing talking to my girlfriend.”
When the relationship eventually sours, and Verity needs to move, she finds to her cost that the perverse twist in her relationship with Mike cannot be simply cast off like an unwanted piece of clothing.
Lisa Jewell knows a thing or three about locating the strings that pull on a reader’s senses, particularly those of anxiety, sympathy and tension. In Then She Was Gone she tweaks these strings to maximum effect with the story of a woman whose life is shattered when her fifteen year-old daughter disappears without trace or reason. Ten years pass and, while Laurel will never come to terms with Ellie’s disappearance, she has learned to live with the numbness. Her life seems to be taking a turn for the better when she is begins a relationship with an intriguing man called Floyd. The intrigue, however, turns to shock when she meets his young daughter – who is the spitting image of the her missing Ellie.
To win a hardback copy of Then She Was Gone, simply email us at the address below, putting Lisa Jewell in the subject box, or go to the Fully Booked Facebook page and ‘like’ the post. The winner will be drawn from all entries received. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 8th October. On this occasion, we will be unable to send the prize to the USA due to postal costs.