Instead of the usual ‘whodunnit’, the Mystery of the Month this month is domestic thriller The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner.
A resident of the rural Pacific Northwest, A.J. Banner was inspired to write a novel set “on a remote, rainy, shadowy northwest island”. The fictional location of Mystic Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington, provides the perfect backdrop for main character Kyra Winthrop as she struggles to remember – ‘who am I?’
A WOMAN WITH SECRETS
‘White blood cells live only a few weeks, red blood cells only about four months, but brain cells last a lifetime. When neurons die, they’re never replaced. I don’t recall where I learned all this, or how – but I know I’m only a shadow of my former self, as spectral as a dream.’ – Kyra Winthrop
Kyra Winthrop is recovering from a diving accident where she suffered a severe head trauma. As a result, she has forgotten everything that happened four years before the accident, the accident itself, and she struggles to form new memories.
A marine biologist, Kyra remembers certain things in great detail, including the scientific names for marine life. However, when it comes to her devoted and patient husband Jacob, she struggles to remember much about their marriage at all.
Feeling disoriented and alone, Kyra speaks to the residents of Mystic Island where Jacob brought her two weeks ago, to try and piece together the fragments of her life before the accident.
But who can she trust?
Jacob’s childhood friend Nancy seems friendly enough but it’s apparent she’s holding a torch for Jacob. There’s also something strange about Nancy’s husband Van, who describes Kyra as ‘a woman with secrets’.
And then Kyra encounters reclusive fisherman Doug Ingram, who appears to recognise her and urges her to leave her husband. Kyra discovers Doug’s paintings in the library, and they feature a woman who looks very similar to Kyra. Who could she be?
Even emails from her friend Linny, which used to bring comfort and reassurance, begin to signal to Kyra that something is amiss.
But most concerning of all are Kyra’s persistent dreams and flashes of another man – Jacob’s friend, the handsome Aiden Finlay.
MEMORIES OF ANOTHER MAN
‘He held me, and I could smell the damp wool of his sweater, the fresh soap on his skin. The fleeting image is so vivid it’s startling. I wanted him to hold on to me. A shot of adrenaline rushes through me, an interior tremor like the beginning of a tectonic shift.’ – Kyra Winthrop
As Kyra’s memories start to return, they become more and more disturbing.
Jacob insists that he and Kyra had a happy marriage, but Kyra’s fleeting memories of passionate moments shared with Aiden, who is nowhere to be found, lead Kyra to believe she may have been planning to leave Jacob before the accident.
There are things Kyra can’t explain – a jagged scar on her right thumb, a dent in the bathroom door and whenever she tries to Google information about the accident, the internet connection is lost.
Then Kyra has an ominous dream about the accident where she sees another diver being yanked away by the sea – but Jacob insists that no one else was there. Her growing sense of dread only worsens when she recalls a strange conversation with Jacob, Nancy and Van about how to kill someone and make it look like an accident.
It soon becomes apparent that someone is going to great lengths to prevent Kyra from finding out the truth.
A LITERAL CLIFFHANGER
‘His lips taste familiar. I’m enjoying his touch. I want him. I wanted him before. But something went wrong between us. And I suddenly remember thinking, “What secrets would I hide to save my marriage?”’ – Kyra Winthrop
We connect with Kyra and her fractured memories from the first chapter and become invested in her journey as she goes from readily accepting what she is told to questioning everything.
Banner cleverly drops subtle clues into the dialogue, hinting to the reader about what is really going on. It’s not long before we begin to doubt everyone in Kyra’s life.
The ‘off the grid’ island setting is conveyed without unnecessary over-description but evokes the imagery of the rocky coastline, dense fir forests, and beaches strewn with driftwood, giving a real sense of its remoteness and how it contributes to Kyra’s feelings of isolation.
Avid thriller readers may be able to make an educated guess about the ‘twist’ ending, but when Kyra does eventually realise the truth, the story rapidly picks up the pace and propels the reader towards a dramatic conclusion (which gets extra points from me because it literally occurs on a cliff).
The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner is published by Touchstone.