The Ex by Alafair Burke: A review

This book was my introduction to Alafair Burke, another writer that I had long intended to read but hadn't gotten around to. It was an impressive introduction. I think Burke must have learned a thing or two about plotting and character development from her father, James Lee Burke. But her voice is absolutely original and fresh; consequently, this was an enjoyable summer read.

This psychological thriller presents Olivia Randall as the protagonist. Olivia is a criminal defense attorney of some renown in New York City. Twenty years before, as a law student, she was engaged to Jack Harris, but she cheated on him repeatedly and eventually when he could no longer deny it, they had a big bust-up and Jack rushed away from their argument and called his brother Owen to commiserate and get drunk with him. When his brother, a police officer, was driving home later he had an automobile accident in which he was killed. The shock of everything drove Jack into a psychotic break and he ended up in a mental hospital for months. Olivia was consumed with a guilt of which, in twenty years, she has never been able to rid herself.

Olivia continued having serial affairs as she rose in the ranks of the community of lawyers and Jack went on to become a successful author and to marry and have a daughter named Buckley, now fifteen. Three years ago Jack's and Buckley's world came crashing down when Jack's wife and Buckley's mother was murdered by a teenage boy in a mass killing of thirteen people. The murderer then committed suicide.

Jack blamed the boy's father who had refused to recognize the signs of mental illness and to get help for the boy. And now that man, too, has been killed in a mass shooting and Jack, who had a civil suit against the man, was in the area at the time. He is arrested on suspicion of the killing. Buckley calls Olivia to help her father. At last, Olivia has a chance to possibly save Jack and to finally expunge her load of guilt over the way that she treated him all those years ago. 

The Jack that Olivia knew was a mild-mannered man and she is thoroughly convinced that he could never have committed murder. She throws herself into the battle to defend him against the charges. But if he didn't kill those people, why do all the clues lead so neatly to him? Is this a frame? If so, it seems to be a very tightly fitting one. And who would want to frame him?

I thought the plot was well-paced; it kept things moving and kept the reader interested. All of the main characters have flaws and are not necessarily exactly as they seem on the surface. I felt that Olivia's guilt about Jack was a bit overplayed. I mean it was twenty years ago and obviously, Jack was able to move on, but she still seems to be wallowing in it in spite of her successful career and comfortable life. 

I actually figured out "whodunit" pretty early on, using Sherlock Holmes' dictum that when you eliminate the impossible whatever is left, however improbable it may be, is the truth. It was fun to follow along with the author as she developed the story and brought it to a conclusion. It made for a fast read.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  

Comments

  1. Yeah I listened to this on audio a couple years ago and it was entertaining. The ending gets a bit crazy but the protagonist, defense lawyer Olivia Randall, was an enticing character and made it worthwhile. Burke certainly has the genes for this kind of novel.

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    1. Based on this one, I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.

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  2. Sounds like a good read and well paced as you pointed out. However, I do find it frustrating though to figure out "whodunit" too early on in a novel. I like to be kept in suspense for as long as possible to the identity of the killer.

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    1. I guess it was about halfway through that I began to suspect how this was going to play out, so I found it interesting to look for clues to confirm or contradict my theory through the rest of the book. It made for a fun read.

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  3. This is an author with whom I am not familiar. I am glad you enjoyed it. I like twists and turns but find it worrisome that you figured it out before the end.

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    1. It didn't really impair my enjoyment of the book. I was just rather surprised that my initial surmise turned out to be right.

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  4. The plot of this one sounds very interesting. Stories that connect to a character’s past usually appeal to me it also seems as if the characters are a little flawed. I find that enhances a book.

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    1. Flawed characters are generally more relatable for most of us, I think.

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