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'The Silent Wife,' a he said/she said thriller

"The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison (Penguin, June

"The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison (Penguin, June 2013). Credit: Handout

THE SILENT WIFE, by A.S.A. Harrison. Penguin, 326 pp., $16 paper.

A clever psychological thriller about marriage and murder told in chapters that alternate between male and female points of view, A.S.A. Harrison's "The Silent Wife" is this year's "Gone Girl." But where Gillian Flynn's twisted bestseller was essentially about control, "The Silent Wife" is about money. While "Gone Girl" was a circus of are-you-kidding-me fictional devices, "The Silent Wife" is a boning knife of a novel, sharp and quick.

Jodi Brett is a soignée Chicago psychotherapist who lives in a luxurious waterfront condo with her partner, Todd, a real estate developer, and their golden retriever, Freud. As the book opens, we learn that Jodi is "deeply unaware that her life is now peaking ... that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her."

After this attention-getting overture, murder does not come up again for quite a while. Instead, we get inside the heads of the impulsive, adulterous Todd and the self-contained Jodi much as a psychoanalyst would, combining accounts of their current habits and schedules with details of their childhoods, including excerpts from the transcripts of the psychoanalysis Jodi underwent when training to become an Adlerian therapist. For Jodi, and for her creator, "the unconscious mind is not just a theory in a book, not some trumped-up paradigm or overblown fancy, but as real as the nose on your face, as real as a pickle jar."

Jodi is addicted to her high-dollar lifestyle, walking the dog, seeing a few hand-picked clients, straightening her exquisitely appointed apartment. The main expression of her feelings for Todd is culinary. He comes home each day to carefully prepared appetizers and meals, "a smoked trout on a plate with a fan of crackers," "tiny crustaceans on a platter." Harrison is marvelous on the pleasures of preparing food: "What's tough and impenetrable becomes yielding and permeable."

Todd's part in the domestic pas de deux is to pay the bills and make the martinis. The rituals of drinking play the same role in Todd's life as cooking does in Jodi's: He "succumbs to a tender devotion, a reverence for this welcoming sanctuary with its quaint accoutrements and rituals ... its bustling congregation, and the secular priest behind the bar performing the time-honored rites."

Todd's last betrayal of Jodi is crazily flamboyant, defying her ability to turn a blind eye as it threatens the most important thing -- her rigid lifestyle. It lets loose the dogs of hell, and the beautifully steered plot twists of the denouement.

Like Stieg Larsson ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Harrison died on the eve of publication and the success that will surely follow it (cancer, age 65). That this was her first novel after several works of nonfiction makes it all the sadder. Damn, she was good.

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