The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

 

Reviewed by Angela Marie

     “I love this city. Built upon the ruins of the past, every square foot of it has been used, re-used, flattened, bombed, dismantled, rebuilt and flattened again until the layers of history are like sediments of rock that one day will be picked over by future archaeologists and treasure hunters.

        I am no different – a broken man, built upon the wreckage of my past…….                                                                             ……. Mr Parkinson is a cruel puppeteer…….making me dance to music only he can hear.”

With delicate and deliberate brush strokes, and a finesse borne of intimacy, Michael Robotham reintroduces his straight-laced protagonist, the clinical psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin,  a veteran of nine novels. Those same brush strokes invite us into the privacy of Joe’s world. We meet the furies that have shattered and shattered again Joe’s world and we meet the loving anchors that propel him forward and support his pain. We learn his layers of history.

The Other Wife  is a thriller bearing a profoundly uncomfortable premise. How well do we really know the people closest to us? Do we realise character based on what we experience or observe? Do we smooth over the cracks and form people in the image most comfortable to us, or do we disengage from realities and construct that which we prefer? Or do we ever really know another person?

For Joe O’Loughlin, already crushed by the passing of his wife and his physical ailments, life grabs him and shakes him soundly. He touches a point in life where nothing will ever seem the same again. His father, renowned retired surgeon, William O’Loughlin, has been hospitalised, the victim of a violent attack. William’s wife, sitting dutifully bedside, is not Joe’s mother as he expected.

“Who are you?”  

“I’m his wife.”  

“He’s already married.”  

“His other wife.”  

“You’re his mistress?”  

“No.”

And so, for Joe, begins the psychological dissection of possibilities. Possibilities that spread like a stain until trust and belief become almost impossible to consider. And the questions. Who would want his father dead? And why? And should Joe believe that William, his tetchy, disagreeable father, could dance in the rain. With his other wife. With Olivia. And her son.

The Other Wife casts a wide net of suspects, possibly only eliminating Joe’s daughters, Emma and Charlie. Do we suspect Olivia? Her son, Ewan? Joe’s slighted mother? The faceless man bending over Dr O’Loughlin”s hospital bed? And what is the role of Kenneth, Rosie and David Passage? Old friends that have shared the passing of the years. And more. And the storyline, ever growing in complexity of plot. And yet more cast members. One is not left wondering why certain characters are included. All play their part in the final disturbing and unpredictable analysis.

And why the crime? Why the attempt on eighty-year-old William O’Loughlin’s life? As we read time and time again, follow the money. Yes, follow the money.

Michael Robotham is a meticulous writer, attending to detail and comfortably sustaining the device of relating in the first person. The plot moves from steady and calm to frenetic acceleration and back seamlessly. One moment Joe may be introspectively considering his history with his father, the next ducking to evade a plummeting fist. Through Joe’s musings, we view society’s shortcomings and woes, underpinned by pop culture references. We do see things according to our mood. Joe is not alone, yet lonely. Hope for salve, however, teeters on the horizon.

Although The Other Wife is the ninth in the Joe O’Loughlin series, it can be comfortably read as a stand-alone work. Michael Robotham allows his past characters to slip back in effortlessly, granting sufficient back story to gauge relationships. Vincent Ruiz, ex-police officer, is a case in point. As Joe’s best buddy and foil, we feel the warmth and commitment of their relationship, and the extent to which they will support each other.

This reviewer had the privilege of attending a recent author talk by Michael Robotham where he spoke of his fascination with secrets and secret lives, the idea of simultaneous double lives, and the growing belief that the keeping of secrets is an evolutionary survival tool embedded in our DNA. As readers, we devour a good secret, whether it be that we are in the know, or poring through the clues to unravel and uncover that which it is. Or perhaps the secret is a red herring, cleverly diverting us away from the truth. Or perhaps there are secrets within secrets.

The Other Wife is a compelling read. Although fictitious it delivers food for thought. Look more carefully around you. Are you sure all is as it seems?

Michael Robotham, having honed his craft as an investigative journalist, does not give us more of the same. Consider the author’s last novel, The Secrets She Keeps, a rivetting page turner. Both novels share the device of the secret however the similarity ends there. Little wonder that the author has sold multi-million copies of his books and won the highly-coveted Gold Dagger Award, bestowed by the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association.

This reviewer appreciated the nods within the story to other esteemed crime writers and also sadly notes that this is supposedly the last Joe O’Loughlin novel. With respect, how can this be?

The Other Wife

(2018)

By Michael Robotham

Hachette

ISBN 978 0 7336 3793 3 (pbk)

384pp; $32.99

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