Review: “Dead to Her” by Sarah Pinborough

dead to her by sarah pinborough book cover from goodreads, with background from unsplash by ralph (ravi) kayden
Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

The candle burns.
Crisp paper. A pen.
WHAT HAPPENED TO JONNY?
Envelope.
Seal.
Whisper.
Wait.

Dead to Her, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publication Date: February 11th 2020
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

Marriage can be murder…

SOMETHING OLD
Marcie’s affair with Jason Maddox catapulted her into the world of the elite. Old money, old ties, old secrets. Marcie may have married into this world — but she’ll never be part of it.

SOMETHING NEW
Then Jason’s boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London. Young, attractive, reckless — nobody can take their eyes off Keisha. Including Marcie’s husband.

SOMETHING YOU CAN NEVER, EVER UNDO…
Some people would kill for the life Marcie has—what will she do to keep it?

From Goodreads

Review

Book Content Warnings: infidelity, suicide, abuse, terminal illness, racism, classism, alcoholism, addiction, homophobia

Sarah Pinborough, an author with an impressive ~30 distinct works in her portfolio according to Goodreads, presents her most recent release, Dead to Her, a psychological thriller blending Southern high society elitism with voodoo, jealousy, and ambition. When main character Marcie sees her husband’s boss marry feisty, young Keisha not long after the painful passing of his previous wife, trouble begins to brew. Marcie’s own husband’s eyes begin to wander. He creeps out of bed for late night phone calls and whispers fervently to the mysterious caller in their bathroom. Gradually layers of deceit build up. Despite recent marital hiccups and her own closeted secrets Marcie feels threatened by the coy interactions between Jason and Keisha. Marcie herself was once a similarly spunky and carefree outsider, but now she is determined to defend the position she’s worked so hard to achieve. It turns out, however, that Keisha isn’t the only threat hovering just outside Marcie’s view. Soon it appears the exclusive bubble of privilege and propriety this group maintains is more façade than reality. As forces converge and the noose tightens, masks drop and everyone finds out who their real friends are.

Once a cheat, always a cheat. Thrill seekers seek thrills and that’s all there is to it. Just be careful, dear.

Dead to Her, pg 26, Ch 5

While enjoyable, this is definitely a book with very toxic social dynamics at play. Firstly, it’s a predominantly white, old money male dominated social group, so there’s biases and discrimination abound eg in areas of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic background, etc. There’s also a lot of female infighting in this book – women throwing thinly veiled barbs at one another, keeping tally and hoarding blackmail. And finally we have the toxic relationships between these women and their partners. Many of the women depend on their wealthier partners as primary earners and established figures, so we typically see the woman’s power linked to them instead of having any of their own. This means the power dynamics inside the home and out in social settings by and large favor the men. For Keisha as an outsider marrying in to ‘refined’ society she’s not only suddenly burdened with judgement and expectations to conform; it means she has precious few options when she finds the supposed savior she married has a dark side. Marcie, on the other hand, experiences power dynamics of the wealthy when she tries to break in to an exclusive invite-only woman’s group. Unfortunately she finds Jason (and transitively herself) doesn’t yet make the cut.

They all like to keep it up, don’t they? But the problem with a race is that someone is always ahead and the rest are always chasing. The keeping up is endless.

Dead to Her, pg 290

By now it should be clear much of this book revolves infidelity as a major theme, so warning if that’s a sensitive or unappealing topic. For the first half of the book or more Marcie is hurt and suspicious, secretly trying to find out if Keisha is luring her husband astray. Outwardly the social maneuvering is something else entirely – Jason wants Marcie to befriend Keisha and curry favor so that they can try to convince his boss (Keisha’s husband) to go into retirement and hand over company management to Jason. Marcie wants Jason to succeed, take over, and bring the results of that success into the marriage so she hesitantly agrees despite Jason’s recent odd behavior. “Keep your friends close and enemies closer” right? But as Marcie gets to know Keisha she second-guesses her assumptions – Keisha is either a master manipulator or she’s not the one drawing Marcie’s husband away.

From there the plot thickens.
But it takes about half of the book to get there, which felt a bit long for me to sit stewing in the infidelity and catty behavior. Things pick up in the second half of the book, however, and once things escalate the plot got more interesting. I was able to breeze through to the end pretty easily from there on out.

Dead to Her definitely held some surprises that caught me off-guard. There’s an unexpected set of steamy scenes, as well as a few well-executed twists at the end. In general I was a huge fan of the wrap up. It provided some closure on the major plot points while leaving room for the imagination. Was that enough to redeem the painful amount of infidelity, abuse, and bad behavior in the rest of the story? Not by itself. But between the intriguing character work on Marcie and Keisha and the dynamic plot I found myself drawn in. There was a spattering of LGBTQ+ representation I enjoyed as well as unexpected Creole voodoo spread across a few characters. Overall this was a solid read with some surprising scenes. Good for readers interested in a mix of [southern wealth] meets {outsiders with a past} meets <secrets and revenge> who aren’t shy reading about some tough topics.

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