Monday, April 20, 2020

Book Review: The Closer You Get

By Jami Deise

One of the reasons I enjoy the domestic thriller genre so much is that it takes place in an environment that every reader can identify with. Spouse, home, children… these are the touchstones for so many of us, which is why it feels so personally frightening when things go wrong. And the big reveal, while often far-fetched, still resonates. Husband was secretly replaced by his identical twin? Long-dead mother wasn’t dead after all? Our best writers pull off these twists with ease.

And yet, sometimes the best writing is the most predictable, when everything unfolds in a natural way, and characters reveal themselves to be exactly who they seem to be. In times of crisis, there’s a comfort when the road stays straight until the end.

In Mary Torjussen’s latest psychological thriller The Closer You Get, character isn’t so much revealed as it is confirmed. The book begins with Ruby leaving her husband Tom in order to begin a new life with her boss Harry, with whom she’s been having an affair. It’s Friday night, and she and Harry have agreed to meet at a hotel to begin their lives together. Harry is also married, and also planned to tell his wife Emma that he’s leaving her that night. But when Ruby arrives at the hotel, Harry isn’t there… and he never shows up. Ruby spends an agonized weekend wondering what happened to him (they had a pre-arranged agreement not to call), only to come into work to learn he went on a two-week holiday with his wife. Who’s pregnant. And, by the way, Ruby… you’re fired.

Any judgment a reader might have had toward Ruby’s adultery is immediately nullified by Ruby’s predicament. Even though it would be easier to swallow her pride and return to her controlling husband, she rents a tiny, rundown apartment and hits the pavement job-hunting. Unfortunately, it seems that somehow everyone knows about her affair with Harry… she’s virtually unemployable. And then she starts getting strange calls…

As I plowed through this book, I wanted very much for Harry’s actions to be part of the general mystery around who was stalking Ruby. (I also wanted Ruby to hire a lawyer and sue Harry for wrongful termination… but this is a U.K. story; maybe they don’t do that there.) But as the narrative progressed, my rooting value changed: Instead, I wanted Ruby to stand on her own two feet, to prevail over her controlling, gaslighting ex and get on with her life on her own terms.

Torjussen throws a wrench into the story by incorporating Emma’s point of view about halfway through the novel. (This isn’t a spoiler; it’s obvious in the chapter headings.) I was expecting certain things to unfold with her inclusion, but the twists took the story in a completely different direction. At the same time, it put the focus squarely on the real villains of the piece.

The Closer You Get begins like a soap opera: Lovers married to other people scheming to be together. And while love quadrangles and triangles were a staple of that genre for decades, modern storytelling requires more than just two women fighting over a man. In a love story, the man has to be worth it. In a thriller, he rarely is.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Mary Torjussen:

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