*I received a proof copy via the publisher in return for an honest review*
The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd
Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl in Florida’s Red River County. Now he’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.
A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis’s case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.
But when the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all …
I was immediately drawn to this novel, after reading the online hype surrounding the release. The novel has an instantly eye-catching synopsis. The women who write to death row inmates, is an issue that has always fascinated me. Why do they do it? What do they gain? And what sort of woman pens the letters?
The novel centres around the relationship between Sam and Dennis Danson. Sam is an insecure, naïve and mousy school teacher from England. Whilst Dennis is the convicted murderer of an 11-year-old girl. He awaits his execution on death row, whiling away the hours by writing to his pen pals.
But what do this pair have in common?
What do they hope to achieve with this friendship?
This is when the novel takes an unusual but thoroughly relevant twist. Dennis is the star of a recent Netflix series; many people believe him to be innocent of the crime. Sam is one of many ‘fans’ who dissect the case piece by piece online. There are a wealth of theories and forums. Sam quickly becomes obsessed by them. Between their exchange of letters, a friendship/romance develops. When Sam is introduced to Carrie, the producer of the Netflix show, she decides to visit the US and Dennis in prison.
‘When she left, no one seemed to notice she was gone’
The novel is told by alternate chapters and book extracts. Which works well to give the reader Sam’s story, but also the facts surrounding Dennis’s case. I initially felt quite sorry for Sam, considering her to be a lonely woman, desperate for friendship. But as I grew to learn more of the criminal case and the missing young girls from Red River Florida. My sympathy for her waned. That is not to say, I wasn’t absolutely HOOKED because I completely and utterly was. I read the novel in one afternoon. I just felt there was something about her, I was not very keen to trust.
When Sam arrives in the US and the Altoona prison. She is swept away with the media attention, celebrities endorsing Dennis’s release and their first meeting. When we see her trust begin to waver, Dennis is quick to propose marriage.
Does he love her? Or is he manipulating her vulnerabilities?
The book extracts tell us about Dennis’s childhood. His alcoholic father and depressed mother, make for a painfully bleak upbringing. He had known poverty, violence and the foster care system, all before he reached 18 years old.
It is at this point I began to feel quite sorry for Dennis. This novel had me questioning myself. Why was I so keen to extend empathy/sympathy to Dennis?
Is the novel so cleverly written that Dennis begins to manipulate the reader?
The full details of ‘the girls of Red River’ is explored. The extracts offer an insight into Dennis’s arrest and trial. It is at this point, I vowed not to trust either of them! Finding both of the character’s behaviour strange. Yet I could NOT put this book down!
When new evidence comes to light and Dennis is exonerated. He is forced to adjust to a modern life, he left behind 21yr ago. Freedom does not come easy to Dennis. With Sam now playing the dutiful ‘wife’ to Dennis and his new-found freedom, the novel gets stranger and stranger.
A marriage of three: Sam, Dennis and suspicion…….
As Sam becomes more and more insecure. Dennis becomes cold, distant and dismissive of her. She is then the victim of online abuse and is left walking on eggshells around his moods. When Dennis doesn’t talk to her about his past. Sam fills in the blanks herself, creating her own narrative of their lives together.
The constant theme of suspicion, will keep you glued to the page! It makes you the reader, become obsessed with Sam and Dennis’s story. 4*