Friends and longtime blog readers will know I'm quite particular about which thrillers I decide to read. Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward piqued my interest immediately and, holy hell, was it ever a thriller. I don't think I've ever been that engrossed and unsettled by a book before. I needed to put it down a few times for sanity's sake but I really didn't want to because I needed to find out what really happened.
Here's the synopsis:
Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry. . . . That something is really, really wrong with me.One of the things that really interested me was that this novel originally started as a memoir. Ward really did work in Bulgaria and did have a friend who worked in a neighbouring country (though in real life Ward met the fellow American while in Europe and, surprise, she ended up being an undercover CIA agent). That friend did introduce Ward to a British military police body guard. The biggest difference is the horrific crime that kicks off this novel did not happen.
Maddie and Ian’s romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD, her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie, and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, 16 years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 9-1-1 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.
But what in this beautiful home has gone so terribly bad?
That crime, and all the events that are tied to it, is fictional (thank goodness) but it felt incredibly real. And that is why the book was, at times, is so unsettling. If a 911 call is being made at a home there's obviously some serious issues so I had that view while reading the rest of the book. What I didn't know what the real story or who to trust. Ward did an amazing job with the unreliable narrator trope because the reader truly has no idea what or who to believe. I had my ideas, of course, but what actually transpired managed to shock me.
The mystery part of this novel was interesting but I was much less interested in the characters and their relationships. I couldn't really see why Maddie would fall for Ian and allow her friendship to Jo blow up in the process. You could see cracks in the friendship when they were in Europe but their opinions clearly didn't matter enough to each other to allow them to smooth things over before Maddie left. And Ian's relationship with his ex? That entire plot point was bizarre and I'm not sure it was totally necessary.
Beautiful Bad is a book for you if you enjoy twisted thrillers. Annie Ward has turned her own life upside down and created characters who will anger and confuse you from start to finish. It was an interesting read and one I'd recommend - especially with a glass of something alcoholic beside you!
*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*