The Pocket Wife opens with Dana passed out on her couch in a drunken stupor, woken up by the wail of an approaching ambulance and unable to patch together the events of the afternoon. She knows she drank a lot of sangria and had a fight with her neighbour, Celia, over a blurry photo on Celia’s phone, showing Dana’s husband out with a young blond woman. When the ambulance stops in front of Celia’s house, Dana stumbles over and finds her neighbour lying in a pool of blood, her head bashed in by a heavy blue vase the two of them bought together at a yard sale.
Did she do it? She’s not completely sure. Dana is teetering on the brink of a manic episode, watching it coming, knowing the symptoms. She remembers previous episodes, including one that left a jagged scar on her wrist and resulted in her sending shreds of her manuscript spiraling off the rooftop while she tried to fly after them. But that was a long time ago. Now she’s married to Peter, a smug lawyer with perfect hair. Ever since their only son left for college, the marriage has been showing some cracks and strains. The title of the book comes from this, her feeling that she’s just something he can slip into his pocket, trivial and unimportant, necessary only when he chooses.
Although Dana knows she’s heading into a manic episode of her bi-polar disease, she puts off visiting the doctor, using the clarity and energy of the mania to attempt to piece together that fateful afternoon’s events. She speeds through her days, foot pressed hard on the accelerator, feeling her brain snap and fizzle. The question is, did Dana’s madness and anger lead her to do the unthinkable, or is the real murderer on the loose? Is someone stalking Dana or is it her illness that sees the hooded figure disappearing under the trees in the back yard, slipping into shadows, or tailgating her in the heavy rain?
In general, husbands do not come off well in this novel. Celia’s husband, Ronald, has issues with his own alibi. Peter is slimy. And Detective Jack Moss is facing the end of his second marriage, although he’s a likable character, drawn to Dana’s fragility and daring honesty. The novel is divided between Dana’s point of view and Jack Moss’, and we see someone who is indefatigable in chasing down clues, even those that seem to strike awfully close to home.
Even the periphery characters are well done–Jack’s boss, the perfectly-put-together assistant prosecutor who’s gunning for the full job and pressuring Jack to make a quick arrest, the waitress at the diner where Dana goes when she feels a manic episode coming on and who remembers her in spite of years between visits, the Vietnamese neighbour who’s always washing his car, running the Neighborhood Watch program, on the look-out for intruders even though he missed the most important one.
The Pocket Wife is a taut psychological thriller, masterfully drawn, as we enter the head of a woman running ever faster to the brink of madness. Although we think we know at least part of the answer, it’s not at all clear until the end, although the clues were there all along. It’s really well done and I absolutely loved it. I highly recommend this book.