If you’re looking for a powerful psychological thriller and an emotionally complex story with more twists and turns than a corkscrew, look no further than Kimberly Belle’s DEAR WIFE.
The central plot line of this novel follows a woman creating a new identity for herself while escaping an abusive marriage. However, as the author explains, she’s really telling three stories here. The central heroine is Beth Murphy on the run from her controlling and abusive husband.
“For months she’s been planning her escape,” Belle says. “Saving grocery money, thinking through the various strategies, coming up with a plan. One day when her husband is at work, she finds her chance. She steers her car westward to leave a trail of clues, then doubles back and disappears into Atlanta. It’s essential she make no mistakes, because Beth knows as soon as her husband finds her, she’s dead. She’s an abused woman in the midst of reclaiming her strength, so while she probably wouldn’t be the best conversation partner at a cocktail party, she makes a kick-ass heroine. Brave. Determined. Stronger than she realizes. Willing to risk everything for her freedom and the chance to rebuild her life.”
Beth does make some interesting decisions and friends, folks like her who are running from their own secret past. Despite everything she’s been through, she never forgets to be kind.
Woven throughout Beth’s story is that of Jeffrey Hardison, a man who returns from a business trip to find his wife, Sabine, missing. She’s taken almost nothing with her, left no clues as to where she went or why. On the surface, Jeffrey is a pretty average guy. Decent looking, college educated, employed but stuck in a dead-end job he’s not all that crazy about. He’s a little frustrated and a lot angry, and as a result, his marriage is floundering. He’s unhappy, and he takes it out on everyone around him, especially Sabine.
“What makes him so scary is we all know a million guys just like him,” Belle says. “Men who are cruel behind closed doors, but who can turn up the charm when they need to. Villains like Jeffrey have this cloak of invisibility, because you don’t realize how evil they are until they want you to see. And by then, it’s too late. You’re already a victim.”
The third key character is Marcus Durand, the detective assigned to the Hardison case. He will stop at nothing to bring the missing woman home. But the more he digs, the more he finds things weren’t so great at home, and Jeffrey may have had reason to want Sabine gone. He’s a decent detective, but has his own issues. And, like many great detective characters, there is more to Durand than meets the eye.
I often ask writers where the inspiration for a novel came from. This one is so twisty that it was no surprise to hear Belle describe the story as a gift from the writing gods.
“I had just spent months putting a proposal together for another story when DEAR WIFE woke me up in the middle of the night,” Belle says. “My eyes popped open and the story was right there, fully formed, playing in my head like a movie. I knew my characters, the major plot points, how the story began and ended. In the morning, I called my editor and pulled the proposal, then asked for another week or two to throw together a new one.”
Clearly, her editor loved the story just as much as Belle did. Belle seems to be a natural suspense writer, but says she didn’t set out for her stories to be “domestic.” That also seemed natural.
“I write the kind of books I like to read,” Belle says, “about subjects that everyone can relate to: relationships. Parent-child, husband-wife, siblings. I love exploring the emotions that come along with these types of bonds, mostly because they’re so universally recognizable. Toss in the suspense angle—a lying spouse, a child gone missing—and it’s a what-if scenario everyone can imagine themselves in. That’s the appeal of the genre, I think, that people read it and think, that could have been me.”
DEAR WIFE is also psychological suspense, a challenging genre to get right. One can’t help but notice that many female authors really shine in this arena. What’s their secret? Belle says that women are killing it in the genre (figuratively speaking) because they write stories that are realistic and reflect what’s happening in the world.
“As the ones who are all too often on the receiving end of the violence or crime, women bring a unique perspective to the table,” she says. “Our stories are relatable. They’re real. And I love that women are taking control of the narrative and transforming the victims into heroes—women fighting back, getting even, saving the day, solving the crime, rediscovering their strength. Today’s heroines are no shrinking violets. They are strong and they kick ass, like Beth. Also, women authors just seem to dig deeper into the psychological whys, which to me are far more interesting than the hows.”
With a talented writer like Belle, it’s fascinating to climb inside a character’s mind and see what makes them tick. This is her fifth turn at proving that and, unlike most thriller authors, all her books are standalones. I asked if she’d consider a series, a question she hears often, but she said she doesn’t see herself writing them any time soon.
“By the time I get to The End,” Belle says, “my characters have been through the wringer. They’ve earned a bit of happiness and peace, the poor things. But more importantly, I love the process of discovering a whole set of new characters, crafting real people with real emotions and personalities, feeling them out and seeing how they operate. For me, that’s a big part of the fun, and I would miss it if I were to start a series.”
Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of five novels, including the forthcoming domestic suspense, Dear Wife (June 2019). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and her work has been translated into a dozen languages. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.
To learn more about Kimberly and her work, please visit her website.