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Rock Paper Scissors


Rock Paper Scissors

Heralded as the “queen of the killer twist,” Alice Feeney reigns supreme with ROCK PAPER SCISSORS, a twisted, shocking thriller about what’s wrong with the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Wright, and a pointed reminder that a haunted marriage is just as terrifying as a haunted house.

Amelia and Adam Wright have celebrated several anniversaries together, always adhering to the traditional gifts as decided by Emily Post back in 1922. But lately their marriage has grown stale. Adam, who is diagnosed with prosopagnosia (also known as face blindness) has never been able to recognize his wife’s face, but it wasn’t until recently that she really felt unseen and ignored by him. A workaholic screenwriter, he catapulted to fame when he adapted a book by his favorite author, Henry Winter, a notorious recluse. But in recent years, Adam has struggled to find the same acclaim, and with his own screenplay, Rock Paper Scissors, collecting dust in his desk, he has grown cranky and short-tempered. Desperate to save their marriage, Amelia enrolls them in couples’ therapy and whisks Adam away to Scotland when she wins a vacation package at an office holiday party.

"ROCK PAPER SCISSORS is, without a doubt, the most chilling novel I have read this year...if not ever. Never before have I had to read a domestic thriller with my flashlight at the ready..."

After a tumultuous eight-hour drive through a harsh storm, Amelia, Adam and their dog, Bob, arrive at Blackwater, a converted chapel tucked away in a wintery village. But the idyllic retreat they had in mind quickly falls away when they discover a few things: Blackwater is abandoned and decidedly creepy, the chapel doors are locked, making their welcoming quite cold and surprising, and they start to feel certain that one of them will not be coming home from this trip. After completing a walk around the building to look for an open door, Amelia and Adam return to find the chapel doors wide open. They agree to blame it on the wind, but already Feeney is setting the stage for something sinister.

Despite their surname, it is immediately apparent that something is very wrong in the Wrights’ marriage. Adam is mean and impatient with Amelia, who is caught in more than a few lies. But as the chapel gets creepier and creepier, complete with white faces in the windows, whispered names in the cellar and smiley faces traced into dusty surfaces, Adam and Amelia realize that they’re up against far more than their failed marriage. When Bob goes missing in the middle of the night and they recognize how utterly alone they are in Blackwater, their minds start to play tricks on them, even as they continue to lie, gaslight and snap at one another.

As Feeney reveals, their lies are interesting, but far more intriguing are the reasons they lie. Is their marriage just suffering from a low point, or have they changed fundamentally from the people they were when they first got together? And if they have changed, can they continue to love one another and keep the promises they made when they exchanged vows?

In alternating chapters, Amelia writes letters to Adam on each of their anniversaries, mulling over the year they’ve shared, the importance of the traditional gifts they’ve exchanged, and providing an unfiltered sort of state of the union on her happiness in their marriage. Here we see the highs and lows of Adam’s career, his strange interactions with Henry Winter, and the ways that their previously love-filled marriage has started to crumble.

In still other chapters, we watch the couple unravel through the eyes of Robin, an older woman living in a dilapidated cottage near the chapel. Though she has few interactions with them, she seems able to guess their every move, and at times it appears that she alone can really see what Adam and Amelia are plotting, even when they are hiding their thoughts from one another. Through Robin’s eyes, we are reminded that no matter how long you have known, loved or been married to someone, you can never really know a person inside and out --- and however good someone appears to be, we each have the capacity to become a villain at the drop of a hat. Feeney plays her reveals close to the vest here, but she never once lets up on the tension or chill factor, with the book reading both like a horror novel full of ghosts and witches and a thriller set between two unreliable narrators and their shaky hold on one another.

ROCK PAPER SCISSORS is, without a doubt, the most chilling novel I have read this year...if not ever. Never before have I had to read a domestic thriller with my flashlight at the ready, but Feeney writes with such precision and perfect pacing that her already shocking explorations into the human psyche become exponentially more horrifying. This is very much a writer’s thriller, and her mastery of her craft is on full display at every twist. As Robin explains, “Life is like a game where pawns can become queens, but not everyone knows how to play. Some people stay pawns their whole lives because they never learned to make the right moves.” If writing thrillers is anything like chess, this author has clearly never met a pawn she wasn’t willing to sacrifice, and her novels are all the better for it.

With her expert control over plotting, characterization and the shock of a dramatic reveal, Alice Feeney has proven once again why she is the master of domestic suspense with ROCK PAPER SCISSORS. If you’re a character in one of her books, watch out: “The scariest haunted houses are always the ones in which you are the ghost.”

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 24, 2021

Rock Paper Scissors
by Alice Feeney