Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: GUILTY WIVES by James Patterson and David Ellis ranks among the very best of Patterson’s stand-alone works. The cover draws you in (well, it drew ME in, anyway), but you will stay for the plot, which is a whodunit, whydunit and howdunit. Even though all of those questions are supposedly answered within the first few chapters of this fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat novel, you will keep reading from the first page to the last without a break.
"The greatest strength of GUILTY WIVES is its cinematic narrative; the story unfolds like an edge-of-your-seat movie that leaves you emotionally drained at the end. At the same time, it is a cautionary tale that warns against revenge taken hastily in any form and the betrayal of marital trust."
Four friends --- women married to husbands who, for varying reasons, are less than ideal mates --- take a weekend vacation to Monte Carlo for relaxation, gambling, drinking and more. At the end of a night of partying, three of them join two men for a bit of group sharing, so to speak, while the fourth, Abbie Elliot, finds herself ensconced in the arms of a well-known movie star. The next morning, the movie star is gone, the two men are found dead, and the four women are arrested as terrorists. You see, one of the dead men was the President of France. Their incarceration and trial proceeds swiftly --- as the quartet is frequently reminded, they are not in the United States --- and the ladies soon find themselves in a horrific women’s prison for the long haul.
Now, a bit of GUILTY WIVES does require some suspension of disbelief. However, the narrative is well-paced and moves quickly, and rest assured that by tale’s end, all is explained and makes sense. It is obvious to everyone but the French judicial system that the women are being set up, and the reader even gets a hint near the beginning as to who is really responsible. But it is the how and why that maintains the mystery. Abbie is made of stern stuff. She undoubtedly has a rough time in prison, from which she is almost certain not to walk away. Still, she refuses to knuckle under.
In desperation, Abbie embarks on a crazy plan that seems doomed to failure almost from the beginning. Her intent is to escape from prison, prove her innocence, and find out precisely how she and her friends wound up in their predicament. It is at this point that the book really takes off. The arrest and trial are interesting, and the horrors that Abbie experiences while incarcerated are frightening, but it is the final half of the book that is pure adrenalin. Abbie follows a slim trail of evidence, while everyone else, from the people behind the frame-up to every gendarme in France, is following her. The ending is anything but predictable.
The greatest strength of GUILTY WIVES is its cinematic narrative; the story unfolds like an edge-of-your-seat movie that leaves you emotionally drained at the end. At the same time, it is a cautionary tale that warns against revenge taken hastily in any form and the betrayal of marital trust.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 30, 2012