“Pretty Little Wife” starts with a special twist. We know who killed Aaron Payne before we even open the book. The back of the book’s heading reads, “Shouldn’t a dead husband stay dead?” We know that Lila Ridgefield killed her handsome husband, a beloved high school teacher — but there’s a problem. His body, whose death she had carefully staged, is gone, along with Aaron’s car and cell phone.
She’s not surprised when Aaron’s best friend Brent, the principal at the high school, is overly concerned when Aaron doesn’t show up for work. Her husband’s work ethic is such that he goes to teach even when he’s sick — he never misses a day. His brother Jared is equally concerned. While Lila doesn’t care for Brent, his ego and his expensive car (that he can’t afford), Lila does genuinely like Jared. Even when she feels that she doesn’t like her husband, she has always felt a connection with Jared, who is warm and caring.
In contrast, both Lila and Aaron are cold and uncaring. They had dysfunctional childhoods and were damaged by childhood events beyond their control. When Lila met Aaron, she felt that with him, she’d found someone with whom she would be comfortable, someone safe who wouldn’t disappoint her or expect emotional involvement she couldn’t provide. She didn’t get what she bargained for. But she accompanied him when he decided he wanted to leave North Carolina and return to Ithaca, New York, nearer to where he grew up, so he could be closer to his brother.
Now that Aaron’s body has disappeared — did she fail to kill him? — Lila’s not sure what to think. And a popular true crime podcast, Gone Missing, has picked up on the fact that there are three missing women in the Ithaca area. Is Aaron’s disappearance related to the disappearance of the young women? Lila knows better, or at least she thinks she does.
There are two strong women in this novel. Lila is a smart and capable attorney, and while the narrative is third person, we are privy to her thoughts and feelings. We also know what Ginny, the detective assigned to investigate Aaron’s disappearance, suspects. Both women are intelligent and each respects the other. We see how that respect grows over the course of the story. And while many readers won’t particularly like the main character, Lila does command respect as she struggles to make sense of the results of some poor decisions she has made as well as matters beyond her control.
The mystery isn’t so much a question of who moved Aaron’s body, but why it was moved. And there are limited suspects, so we certainly have our suspicions early on. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises. In fact, even after we’ve read the last page, the author leaves us with some lingering questions about how much Lila knew and when she knew it. Good writing and a plot that drives the action and builds the suspense make this an excellent choice for fans of murder mysteries.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.