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The Pocket Wife


The Pocket Wife

Dana Catrell is, by all appearances, a typical suburban wife living in a quiet suburban New Jersey neighborhood. Her husband is a busy tax attorney who seems to have more interest in his career than in his wife, especially lately. And she's certainly missing their only son, who, much to Dana's dismay, has recently started school in Boston, rather than in nearby New York City. But none of Dana's friends or neighbors know about her history, her flights of fancy that feel totally out of control, the time she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, or the psychotropic drugs she's tried and failed to use to control her wild moods.

That's all about to change when Dana's neighbor and sort-of friend, Celia, turns up dead in her own home, seemingly bludgeoned to death with a vase. Dana remembers having gone to Celia's house that very afternoon, arguing with her neighbor (about what, she can't recall), drinking too much, and storming out of the house in a panicked rush. But why? Is it possible that, in a moment of madness, Dana killed her own neighbor?

"THE POCKET WIFE is a well-written psychological thriller with two equally complex primary characters and a couple of twists that readers won't see coming."

That's exactly the question on the mind of Jack Moss, the homicide detective assigned to the case. Dana, with her shoddy memories and unstable history, emerges as an early suspect. But then again, so does Celia's husband…as well as Jack's own largely estranged son, Kyle. Kyle took test prep courses from Celia while studying for his GED --- and the evidence seems to show that he had a fairly friendly relationship with his teacher outside of the classroom. Jack is desperate to keep his son's name out of the investigation. But is that family loyalty blinding him to the real perpetrator?

Told in sections alternating between Jack and Dana's points of view, THE POCKET WIFE offers a suspenseful mystery and an intriguing portrayal of mental illness. The prose in Dana's sections in many ways mirrors her increasingly manic state, which eventually reaches a crisis point as Dana's whirlwind thoughts spin out of control: "She jams her foot down harder on the gas and rounds the corner. Nothing can keep up with her thoughts; they're everywhere at once. She knows everything all at the same time, the secrets of the universe presenting themselves like gems before her. The world is alive with motion. It shimmers beneath her, above her, all around her." Both Dana and Jack are investigating the crime from their own starting points; both are undeniably self-interested in the outcome of the investigation. The interplay between their respective voices and their approaches is part of what makes THE POCKET WIFE invigorating to read.

The murder plot itself is genuinely suspenseful, even if many readers will guess the villain well in advance of the book's revelations. Susan Crawford also makes a couple of rookie mistakes in characterization (the characters who appear rotten from the beginning probably are, indeed, rotten) and pacing (there are too many investigation status recaps for most mystery readers' liking). These slight weaknesses aside, THE POCKET WIFE is a well-written psychological thriller with two equally complex primary characters and a couple of twists that readers won't see coming.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 18, 2015

The Pocket Wife
by Susan Crawford