For once I can use the phrase “a true page turner” with utter conviction. And happily add the clumsier “unputdownable”.
This novel fully merits both descriptions.
And though I am not one of those speed readers who can zip through a book in a single session, I was close to achieving that feat on this occasion.
It grips, intrigues and enthrals.
Fittingly it cannot be neatly slotted into any one genre – certainly not basic crime fiction, although a crime is committed (or is it?) and there is a shadowy detective hovering in the background keeping a watchful eye on the main protagonists.
Although author JP Delaney says he always made it very clear he was writing “a novel of psychological suspense”, A Perfect Wife is not to be likened or compared to others in this genre. Nor, as Delaney also states, is it a techno-thriller despite its “unusual speculative element.”
Two main themes – autism and artificial intelligence – are cleverly intertwined around the suspected death (no body has been found) of Abbie, the titular perfect wife of Silicon Valley whizz-kid billionaire Tim Scott.
Scott is a man with attitude; secretive, devious and manipulative yet always with a believable version of events. He is on a relentless drive to create a sentient human being; a cobot – a companion robot.
Sometimes he is the narrator, at others wife Abbie carries the story along. Next it is in the hands of Scott’s partner, Matt, or the unravelling of events is taken up by their tirelessly workaholic underlings. These subservient employees willingly endure a vicious tongue lashing and then happily put in an all-nighter to meet Scott’s demands.
Setting and attitudes, even the casual dress and recreational workplace, conjure up thoughts of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, and other denizens of Silicon Valley. An unreal “other” world.
Yet the basic fabric is a commonplace domestic weave of breakfast spats, dinner table fights, bedtime rows and jealous partners.
With murder the inevitable outcome.
Every chapter thus becomes another tantalising twist in the trail leading to a succession of cliff-edge finales that turn everything that went before on its head.
Just when you think you have everything solved, along comes another completely different and totally reasonable explanation for what happened – followed soon after by yet another acceptable answer. Or is it?
A tug-of-war over what’s best for the couple’s autistic child adds a deeply emotional element. All the more moving because much of it mirrors the struggles the author and his wife continue to face with their own twenty-something son. A sad reality played out in a fictional world.
A must-read, even if it might entail losing sleep. A book that lingers in the mind long after the shattering mind-bending conclusion.
The Perfect Wife, by JP Delaney (Quercus paperback, £7.99)