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Monday, 5 July 2021

‘The Subsequent Wife’ by Priscilla Masters

Published by Severn House,
31 May 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-5059-1 (HB)

Since childhood, Jennifer Lomax has been hard-wired to expect rejection. Her parents both had extra-marital affairs and, after continuous violent quarrels, split up just before her GCSEs. Uncared for and exhausted, Jennifer had to spend a few weeks sleeping rough and, inevitably, failed her exams. Abandoned by her self-centred parents, she had to take the only job she could get, in a care home for old people with dementia. There are few opportunities to meet eligible men in this dead-end job, but Jennifer does start a relationship with the grandson of one of the old people. Instinctively, Jennifer knows that David cannot be trusted, and she discovers that he has been playing the field and deceiving her and several other girls. Jennifer phones the other girls listed in David’s mobile to tell them of his deception. and this results in violence. Jennifer realises that revenge can be achieved in a subtle way, and this experience helps to set a destructive pattern in which she views future relationships.

Jennifer’s ambitions outpace her academic credentials and having left the care home without savings or references, she has to rely on her wits and determination to find another job. She succeeds, and lands a job at a storage facility, which rejoices in the name The Green Banana. Here things go well, and Jennifer soon develops the sales skills to gain extra commission by persuading people to sign up to use the facility. Her living conditions are much better than her previous experience of homelessness, but she wants so much more than a dead-end job, travel by bus and a rented room in somebody else’s house. Alongside this, all her forays into relationships end in failure, disappointment, and disillusionment.

Jennifer becomes interested in the people who store things at The Green Banana and, as well as listening to the tales they tell her about their lives, she often invents her own version of their backstories. Especially intriguing is Steven Taverner, a man of about forty, almost twice Jennifer’s age, who comes in to enquire about storage facilities. Steven seems curiously diffident about the size of facility he wants and rather evasive about what he wants it for. Eventually, Jennifer realises that he wishes to store some clothes and possessions. The first boxes he brings in are labelled ‘Margaret’, and Jennifer guesses they must have belonged to his wife, although, as he wears a wedding ring, she doesn’t think they can be divorced. She develops several possible scenarios to account for Steven storing his wife’s clothes, some more far-fetched than others; the most probable are either that Steven’s wife has left him, and he still hopes she will return, or she has died. and he wears the ring as a tribute to her.

Later in their acquaintanceship, Jennifer unwittingly reveals her vulnerability, resulting from her parents’ violent divorce. To her surprise, a short while later, Steven gives her a dress, which is far more expensive than anything she has ever possessed before. He invites her out and takes her to a high-priced restaurant and tells her that he is a widower. This pattern of behaviour continues, with Steven taking her to luxurious restaurants and giving her costly clothes. Jennifer knows that these garments had belonged to his dead wife and have been retrieved from his storage facility, but nobody has given her such lovely things before or treated her as if she was a worthwhile person. Jennifer agrees to marry Steven, even though she suspects that he wishes to turn her into a living embodiment of his dead first wife. Inevitably, the relationship between the burdened, secretive, middle-aged man and the vulnerable, damaged young woman is filled with the potential for catastrophe and Jennifer realises that she is in a situation that she cannot understand, and which is out of her control.

The Subsequent Wife is a stand-alone novel, told in the first-person viewpoint of the central protagonist, Jennifer Lomax. The characterisation is magnificent, both of Jennifer, a young woman whose personality has been damaged by cruel early experiences, and also of the people around her, seen through her eyes. Jennifer is an unlikely tragic heroine but, in a modern setting, that is what she is. This is a novel with a powerful, underlying social commentary and a plot that moves inexorably towards its nail-biting climax. The Subsequent Wife is a compelling read, which I recommend for those who enjoy tense psychological crime fiction.

Reviewer:  Carol Westron

Priscilla Masters was born in Halifax, and brought up in South Wales, one of seven multi-racial children adopted by an orthopaedic surgeon and his Classics graduate wife. Priscilla trained as a registered nurse in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. She moved to Staffordshire in the 1970s, had an antiques business for a while and two sons. She started writing in the 1980s in response to an aunt asking her what she was going to do with her life! Winding up the Serpent was her first Joanna Piercy story, published in 1995.  Although that series is still continuing the latest Crooked Street published 2016, she has also written several medical standalones and a new series featuring coroner Martha Gunn, set in Shrewsbury. Her most recent series features Dr Claire Roget who is a forensic psychiatrist who has some very unpredictable patients.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts click on the title. 

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