The Silent Wife is a dangerous book. Open it at 10pm and there's a good chance you won't sleep, but instead will read through the night, dragged on by the magnetic pull of a story that unfolds with a grim but irresistible inevitability. The reader is the rubbernecker at the car wreck, not wanting to look, unable to look away.
Marriage is popular territory for thriller writers at present, Gillian Flynn having exposed a psychological gold mine with Gone Girl in 2012. If that was the best thriller I read in that year, The Silent Wife is streets ahead in those stakes in 2014.
Harrison tells the story of Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert, together for 20 plus years but on the cusp of being blown apart by a combination of Todd's serial infidelity and Jodi's blind-eye / head-in-the-sand denial.
The book's tension is derived from Harrison boldly naming both the killer (Jodi) and the victim (Todd) very early on in the narrative - no spoilers here - and then winding the tension like a coiled spring over the subsequent chapters.
The story is presented from both viewpoints "Him"and "Her" in alternate chapters and is a sharp and savage chronicle of duplicity, self-delusion and desperation. It is said that nobody really knows what is going on inside another marriage, but we can only hope that this is not a well-worn template, although modern statistics suggest it isn't unusual, the extreme otucome aside.
While Harrison draws her characters well - Todd all bristling testosterone and jarring self-justification, Jodi a portrait of brave-face fragility - neither is attractive, the reader is rocketed through phases of sympathy and empathy for both, even if this is a huge stretch with the philandering Todd.
The Silent Wife asks fundamental questions about strength and weakness, about loyalty and about the nature of relationships themselves. It's powerful, disturbing and enormously entertaining. It's a tremendous pity that Harrison, who died in June 2013 shortly before publication, did not live long enough to see her work so critically acclaimed.
If you're setting your holiday reading list for 2014 now, and you haven't read this book yet, I strongly recommend it. Just don't start it off too late at night.