Title: The Ex by Alafair Burke
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Legal Thriller
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
In this breakout standalone novel of suspense in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on a Train, a woman agrees to help an old boyfriend who has been framed for murder—but begins to suspect that she is the one being manipulated.
Twenty years ago she ruined his life. Now she has the chance to save it.
Widower Jack Harris has resisted the dating scene ever since the shooting of his wife Molly by a fifteen-year-old boy three years ago. An early morning run along the Hudson River changes that when he spots a woman in last night’s party dress, barefoot, enjoying a champagne picnic alone, reading his favorite novel. Everything about her reminds him of what he used to have with Molly. Eager to help Jack find love again, his best friend posts a message on a popular website after he mentions the encounter. Days later, that same beautiful stranger responds and invites Jack to meet her in person at the waterfront. That’s when Jack’s world falls apart.
Olivia Randall is one of New York City’s best criminal defense lawyers. When she hears that her former fiancé, Jack Harris, has been arrested for a triple homicide—and that one of the victims was connected to his wife’s murder—there is no doubt in her mind as to his innocence. The only question is who would go to such great lengths to frame him—and why?
For Olivia, representing Jack is a way to make up for past regrets, to absolve herself of guilt from a tragic decision, a secret she has held for twenty years. But as the evidence against him mounts, she is forced to confront her doubts. The man she knew could not have done this. But what if she never really knew him?
The Ex is an intriguing legal thriller that is full of twists and turns. Alafair Burke masterfully keeps readers (and defense attorney Olivia Randall) guessing whether or not accused killer Jack Harris is guilty or innocent of the murders he is accused of committing.
Olivia and Jack share a complicated and painful past but when his daughter, Buckley, asks Olivia to help her father, she immediately agrees to defend him. While Olivia’s guilt over her role in the heartbreaking demise of their relationship twenty years earlier still haunts her, Jack has clearly moved on. He met and married Molly but, tragically, three year prior, she was one of twelve victims who were killed by teenager Todd Neely during a mass shooting in Penn Station. Unfortunately for Jack, one of the three people he stands accused of killing is none other than Todd’s father, hedge fund financier Malcolm Neely. The other two victims, twenty-year old Tracy Frankel and forty-one year old Clifton Hunter, seemingly have no connection to Jack so the police only give them a cursory look. Olivia is convinced the Jack she once knew would not murder anyone, but the deeper she looks into his case, the less certain she is of his innocence.
Olivia is a dedicated attorney who does not hesitate to use any means necessary to help her client. She is not exactly pure as the driven snow in her personal life, but despite her less than appealing traits, she is a surprisingly likable character. She continues to feel guilty over her behavior during her engagement to Jack and this is a major factor in her decision to take his case. Olivia initially believes wholeheartedly in his innocence but she quickly discovers he has been less than truthful with her as she prepares his case for trail. For a good portion of the novel, she remains uncertain whether or not he is guilty but Olivia remains committed to providing him the best defense possible.
By all appearances, Jack is a grieving widower who is dedicated to his daughter. He brushes off Olivia’s attempts to discuss their past and he certainly seems to have moved on with his life. However, the deeper Olivia digs into his life, information begins to emerge that reveals his darker side. While he eventually concedes he is not a paragon of virtue, Jack maintains his innocence despite the growing evidence to the contrary.
The Ex is written in first person from Olivia’s point of view and as she delves into Jack’s case, she is forced to re-examine their shared past. Flashbacks provide valuable insight into her previous relationship with Jack and Olivia does not sugarcoat her missteps and misdeeds. While definitely older and wiser, she takes full responsibility for her actions (both good and bad) and her life experiences give her a better understanding of her behavior back then.
The Ex is a well-written and perplexing mystery that is quite suspenseful. The characters are complex and multi-layered with realistic flaws and human frailties. The storyline is engaging and there are enough plot twists to keep the story moving at a brisk pace. As Olivia wavers back and forth between Jack’s guilt and innocence, the reader experiences the same doubts and misgivings which makes it impossible to know how the novel will end. All in all, a superb legal thriller by Alafair Burke that old and new fans will enjoy.