REVIEW: The Widows’ Club – Amanda Brooke

Author: Amanda Brooke (twitter / website)

UK Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: Crime, thriller

@thewidowsclub
In response to unprecedented media interest, we confirm that the murder victim was a member of our group. We will not be commenting further.

When April joins a support group for young widows, she’s looking for answers after her husband’s sudden death. What she finds instead is a group in turmoil.

Set up by well-meaning amateurs, the founders are tussling for control of the group, and everyone’s on edge. Added to that, secret relationships springing up between members and another new member, Nick, seems more than a little bit shady…

But the most dangerous secret of all? Not all members are who they seem to be. And they’ll go to any lengths to hide the truth…

When I picked up this book, I was expecting plenty of twists and turns, betrayals and surprises. What I wasn’t expecting was the INTENSE NOSTALGIA TRIP it also took me on, because it’s set not just in Liverpool but in the suburb where my mum grew up, where my granny lived, and where I spent many, many days as a child. My granny lived on Camphill Road, between Hunts Cross and Woolton, and we often walked through Woolton Park to the village (and on one memorable occasion, when I was about seven, I did it by myself and my mum thought I’d been kidnapped). One of the characters lives in Woolton, another in Hunts Cross, and there are trips to Sefton Park (one of my cousins still lives there). This strange mix of familiar nostalgia contrasted with the mistrust and anxiety of a thriller, which worked perfectly for a story where the people you know and trust could be the very ones who betrayed you.

The story follows three widows – April, Faith and Tara – all at different stages in their grief, and united as a group of friends within a support group for widows and widowers who lost their spouse under the age of 40. April is the newest and youngest member, having been widowed less than a year, alongside Nick, a handsome, apparently wealthy man who is eleven years older than her. Tara, founder of the group, takes April under her wing, but is also struggling to run the group and deal with the pressures of combining two bereaved families as she moves in with her new partner – a fellow member of the widows’ group – and handle their respective daughters’ emotions on the upheaval. Faith is Tara’s friend, and everything you’d want from a glamorous, wealthy widow. Stylish, self-controlled, perfectly content with her life and not looking for another man. I took to Faith immediately, she was a character I really enjoyed.

I took a little time to warm up to April, but I became really hooked when it was revealed she suspected her late husband of cheating on her. That side plot really grabbed me, and I felt gave her character real depth and interest. I was actually disappointed it didn’t play a bigger part in the main narrative. It explained some of April’s motivations, but is resolved about halfway through the book, when I found it one of the more compelling strands – which surprised me because I initially thought April was a bit wet in comparison to Faith.

The great thing about books like this is the way they make you question how candid the characters have been even in their internal monologues, and make you doubt what you think you know. It begs the question ‘how candid is too candid?’. When does openness become over-sharing, and how can we accept honesty simply because details are easily given? It’s perhaps very similar to the core plot in Pride and Prejudice – everyone trusts Wickham because he shares without ceremony, and tells everything, even if it appears unflattering to himself; meanwhile Darcy is seen as distrustful because he shares nothing, and appears as if he is avoiding discussion (isn’t it great how I can pull everything back to Pride and Prejudice eventually? Yes, yes it is). Who do we trust in this book? Is it the character who is giving people all the details and information? The one who takes us into their confidence early on, making us feel as though we are trusted with a secret? Who warns us about the dysfunctions in the group to protect and prepare us? Are they trying to help us, are they trusting us, or are they simply trying to control the narrative before there’s a chance for someone else to offer an alternative perspective? By giving the impression of sharing a deep secret, they inspire loyalty and intimacy with their chosen group, create an ‘us and them’ divide which means other people will do their work for them should their honesty be called into question.

It’s the sort of masterful manipulation which can only be done by someone who becomes close to you, becomes part of your intimate life and can direct you without you even realising. It’s the sort of thing many people have encountered and it’s all the more sinister viewing it from the outside and realising that you’ve still been taken in. These kind of betrayals are so personal and hurtful, their process so insidious, they can really make your skin crawl as a reader. For me personally, against the backdrop of so many wonderful, safe memories, I imagine I came close to the betrayal felt by the characters, that so-jarring realisation that something you thought was safe and reliable was actually the very opposite.

This was the perfect read for the long, cold winter evenings as well, being set from September to early Spring, and really atmospheric. You snuggled down and hoped for the best, even though you knew things would turn out badly for at least one person.

Briefly:

  • An engaging and relatable thriller, dealing with betrayal on a personal level, and manipulation of people who are already vulnerable with grief and who are looking for someone to trust.
  • Set in Liverpool, which is a city I love, and which delighted me perhaps more than was entirely necessary, but it made me very very happy.
  • I grew to enjoy April’s character more as the book went on, but I wish there had been more exploration of her personal plotline, to see her really establishing herself too.

Rating: 4/5 – This was a great easy read, perfect for helping beat the January blues, but I bet it would make a brilliant holiday read as well.