The Secret Lives Of Married Women, a hard-case crime novel by Elissa Wald, blurs the genre a little bit. I had read her previous work Meeting The Master, and thoroughly enjoyed it. One short story from there, ‘Therapy’, the tale of a dominatrix having the tables turned by a psychiatrist hit a little too close to home, but that’s a story for another time.
The book revolves around two sisters, and the discoveries they make of the men in their lives. One, with a husband and child, and another one on the way, having just made the move from East to West America, settling down in suburbia. The other, a defence attorney, facing as big a trial in the bedroom as she is in the courtroom, learning secrets about her sister and husband, and finding herself in want of a baby. Interwoven are the stories of a few of the people interacting with the protagonists, such as Stas, Leda’s husband, and Nan, a witness to the trial Lillian is facing.
The first story, about Leda, finding herself the prey of a neighbourly, easygoing stalker is told so well that it feels it may have elements of truth in it from the author. So believable it is, that you feel yourself tensing up and tingling while you read her plight. The second tale, about Lillian, a heavily sexually repressed lawyer, feels a little clichéd, but has a few nice twists and some light eroticism anybody can enjoy.
The tales are short, and get down to business right away, but as quickly as they are established, they’re over, and you’re sort of left thinking to yourself “Is that it?”. Depending on the sort of reader you are, you’ll either be quite happy with the endings or left disappointed. Despite enjoying the stories, unfortunately I was the latter.
In certain parts the writing feels a little padded, for instance Wald using two different situations to point out that a blind man can’t be impressed by appearances.
The two stories are awkwardly placed together, and may have possibly been better off as separate novellas. Other than one plot element, the two protagonists are not really tied to each other. It feels odd calling this a book of the hard crime genre. The line is blurred in certain ways between the two stories, and thus labelling it under one genre doesn’t seem to work. Nevertheless, the stories themselves keep you interested, and leave you wanting to know just that little bit more about the protagonists, something I think was probably quite deliberately done by Wald.