Reviewed by Robert Goodman.
By Christian White, Affirm Press, $32.99.
Christian White started his award winning debut novel The Nowhere Child with an irresistible hook – a woman who in Australia who may have been a long time missing American child. Not content with that, in his second book, The Wife and the Widow, he has three hooks. In the prologue a man called John is woken in the night by a mysterious figure who he seems to recognise. In the first chapter, ominously titled “The Widow” – Kate waits at the airport with her daughter for her husband to arrive home from London only to find that he is not on the flight. And in the next chapter “The Wife” – Abby finds a bag containing her husband’s new clothes and boots in the bin. The edges and details of all these mysteries then unspool in a narrative that slowly brings the widow and the wife towards each other.
To talk much more about the plot would be to spoil what is a well constructed and surprising murder mystery that builds on the resonance between the two main characters and their interleaving stories. Both find out their partners are not the people they thought they were, following trails of breadcrumbs to heartbreaking discoveries. The reveals are slow burn, small details niggling at while readers who think they have an idea of what is going on or what has happened, until the full picture slowly comes into focus. Keen eyed readers are likely to work some things out more quickly than others but with no less satisfaction. While it is very different from The Nowhere Child, the final act is structurally similar to that book and falls into slightly more traditional thriller tropes, with no less effect.
The majority of the action is set on a small island off the coast of southern Victoria, accessible by car ferry. It is the type of place that is heaving with tourists for three months of the year and practically a ghost town, full of unoccupied holiday residences for the rest. White delivers a real sense of place and community, leaning into the fact that Abby is a local, but quite not as “local” as some, and Kate is an outsider who lives in one of the holiday houses.
The Wife and the Widow confirms Christian White as a new force to be reckoned with in Australian crime fiction. He delivers another page turning stand alone crime thriller with suspense supported by well delivered twists and reverses in a unique location peopled with believable and relatable characters.
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