When a debut novel wins a prize pre-publication, it sets my expectations high. Happily, Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife doesn’t disappoint and justifies all the attention. Here’s what it’s about:
Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl in Florida’s Red River County. Now he’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.
A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis’s case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.
But when the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all.
But how do you confront your husband when you don’t want to know the truth?
If you’ve ever wondered what kind of person writes to, let alone marries, a convicted murderer, then Amy Lloyd offers up a credible contender in Samantha. It’s easy to trace and accept how this clearly not stupid, grown woman is drawn in by Dennis and his campaign.
Sam comes with her own issues, sometimes being too weak and reactive, or jealous and needy, and her own skeletons (though they’re only figurative compared to Dennis’ real ones). And in giving her these, Amy Lloyd ensures we see her as a real person and possibly not as wholly innocent as the title suggests.
Things start innocently enough though, when Sam’s introduced to the world of true-crime documentaries by her then boyfriend and they watch one about Dennis. It’s what follows, through Sam’s need to know more about his case and how this escalates, which makes The Innocent Wife such compulsive reading.
It’s one thing marrying a prisoner, it’s another entirely when they’re released and you find yourself having to find a way of living together and making a marriage work. Sam doesn’t appear to have given much thought to what would happen if Dennis’ campaign succeeded. And then suddenly there’s no perspex separating them, no relationship conducted by correspondence, no media circus or documentary team following them around anymore. It’s just two people who don’t know each other very well.
Sam needs to adjust when her former safe fantasy suddenly become her new reality, and Dennis needs to catch up with smartphones, message boards and everything else that’s happened since he went behind bars, while coping with his new-found freedom. Dennis’ reaction to white privilege stood out for me here, and also how all the forums and social media used so effectively to campaign on his behalf simply weren’t there when he was convicted. While with Sam it’s watching her adjust to her new life in the States, getting to know her husband, while beginning to question if the right thing’s been done in releasing him.
Amy Lloyd’s clearly poured her own love of true crime into her debut novel. The Innocent Wife worked exceptionally well for me: I confess I may have become a little obsessed with it and kept wanting to google Dennis’ case, before having to remind myself that it wasn’t real. The hallmark of a great book.
The Innocent Wife is a compelling read and one of this year’s standout thrillers. Highly recommended.
The Innocent Wife is published by Century, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Amy Lloyd won the Daily Mail Bestseller Competition with it in 2016. It is available as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. You can also follow Amy on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.