My mom sometimes brings me books.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. I do. It’s very sweet and thoughtful of her, and I love that she thinks of me. But there’s not a ton of overlap in my mom’s and my taste in books. I’m not sure she’s ever read a nonfiction book as an adult, and she loves Nicholas Sparks way more than I think is healthy, but I still always read the things she brings me (eventually!) even if they’re not exactly my taste. Because that’s what daughters who love their moms do. 😊 And that’s how I ended up with a copy of It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). It’s been sitting on my shelf for about two years, and I’m trying to read from that shelf in particular in order to make room to display some of my Jewish books. Thrillers aren’t necessarily my favorite genre, but I don’t mind them now and then, and this was okay.
The story features three friends who couldn’t possibly be more different, all starting out at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. There’s Aubrey, who’s had a rough life and who’s looking for her time at Carlisle College to provide her with a better future; Jenny, a townie, cynical yet ambitious; and Kate, a ne’er-do-well daughter of privilege, for whom things always seem to work out, no matter how deep she gets into the muck. The three are assigned to room together; Aubrey’s naïve enough to buy whatever anyone is selling, but Jenny’s not as easily pulled into Kate’s vortex as everyone else around her seems to be. She still gets caught up in it, though, as Aubrey and Kate begin to spiral into some harmful behavior, and before they know it, a boy lies dead in the river, and another is left barely clinging to life, with no memory of what happened. All three girls were involved; no one is talking, and the cover-up, orchestrated by Kate’s influential father, is swift and all-encompassing.
Twenty years later, they’re all back in town again, back together, and suddenly there’s yet another body washed up in the river. Who is this woman? Who killed her? Long-buried secrets might unravel everyone’s lives. Friendship can be deadly…
So this was a decent thriller. I liked it, didn’t love it, but I feel that way about most thrillers, so that’s not particular to this one. What I did love, however, was how well Ms. Campbell crafted her characters. What was most remarkable to me was how deeply unlikeable almost every character in the novel was (there’s a female police officer whom I liked. That was really about it!). Aubrey is a social climber and desperate to sink her claws into Kate and what Kate’s status can bring her, and she doesn’t bother developing her own personality because of this. Ew. Jenny has her sights set on certain goals and allows herself to be manipulated in order to reach these goals (although there are some circumstances which make this a little more understandable), but she’s also willing to hide and destroy certain things in order to maintain a certain image. Ugh. And Kate is possibly one of the most manipulative characters I’ve ever read, and her pathetic, weak-willed boyfriend-turned-husband Griff had me rolling my eyes every time he opened his mouth. Gross. They were all such horrible, awful people that I was truly marveling at Ms. Campbell’s skill at creating a world filled with such unlikeable characters (and I swear, this is not sarcasm! This takes some serious skill as a writer and I’m in awe).
It was to the point where, by about three quarters of the way through, I wasn’t sure I cared whodunnit (meaning, which character in particular), because truly, everyone was so very awful that they all deserved some time in the slammer for various reasons! And the ending…predictable, yes, but honestly, it was pretty satisfying. I stayed up late to finish it, almost midnight- which is NOT something I make a habit out of; sleep is something I take pretty seriously after spending several years being dangerously sleep-deprived when my daughter was a baby- and was pretty happy with the way things wrapped up.
So if you’re looking for a decently-paced thriller stuffed with well-written, unlikeable characters you’d never want to hang out with in real life, It’s Always the Husband makes for a quick and fun read with a gratifying ending. Thanks, Mom!