Review: The Third Wife; Lisa Jewell

Mixed emotions about this book… (3.5 stars)

Source- review copy

Published by Century, July 2014

I read the Kindle edition. The hardback is 400 pages. 

From the outset this book seemed to promise so much, but for me, just didn’t quite live up to my overall expectations. Though an engaging read and probably perfect to while away a few non-taxing hours, it just fell somewhat flat at the final hurdle, which was such a shame. It had kept me pretty much gripped all of the way through until that point. 

In 2011, Maya is killed by a bus. The question remains as to whether it was a suicide or merely a tragic accident. One year later her still-grieving husband Adrian desperately needs to find out. He’s a shell of a man since Maya’s death. 

Maya was Adrian’s third wife and it seemed they had the perfect life together: even his children and ex-wives loved her. She was young, popular, pretty, had a great job and the two of them were even trying for a baby. Could she really have wanted to kill herself? 

When a stash of poisonous emails is found hidden on Maya’s laptop, Adrian realised that his late wife had some secrets in her life- and perhaps their marriage wasn’t so perfect after all… 

Told via the medium of clever flashbacks to Maya when she was alive and then in the present day, I found this read to be decently paced with some nice touches of topical realism (nods to the last Olympic Games etc) that kept it feeling current and fresh. It was an interesting mystery/family drama filled with some twists and turns and red-herrings to keep the reader guessing- though perhaps overly long in my opinion. I reckon about fifty pages or so could have been shaved off this and the essence of the story still would have been retained. 

Though well-written and offering an interesting perspective on the dynamics of blended families and stepfamilies, I have to say that the actual characters in this story were a mixed bag. Some I liked (Adrian’s daughter Pearl), some I disliked (Adrian himself, his oldest daughter Cat) and some were quite flat and poorly developed or merely under-utilised (Adrian’s first wife Susie and his son Otis). As a consequence, whilst I connected to some of them, others felt merely redundant to the storyline. I also found it far-fetched that after all of Adrian’s behaviour in his relationships that his ex-wives and children would all get along quite so well. I’m not saying it can’t happen- just that it didn’t feel especially realistic! 

For me, the biggest disappointment about this book was the ending. After everything that happened within the plot and by the time the mystery element was solved (at least it was though, I would have hated for the reader to be kept hanging!), I still felt that Adrian had not changed one iota since the start of the novel. He was still a misogynist pig! Though I realise that was somewhat the point, it felt like I’d invested a lot in the book and been on a journey with the characters. For the main protagonist not really to have changed just didn’t work for me. I had also worked out who was responsible for sending the nasty emails by that point, so  the novel didn’t actually offer too many surprises for me in that respect. 

Still, despite its rather silly, contrived ending, this story of secrets, family and betrayal was worth a read and I’m glad I gave it a shot. Though it is my first experience of a Lisa Jewell novel, from other reviews I have encountered, it seems I haven’t started on one of her strongest- so I’m fairly sure I would read more from her in future. I think I’d be safe in recommending this book to fans of Jane Green or Rowan Coleman and it is a solid 3.5 out of 5 star read from me.


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