Book review: The Other Wife - Michael Robotham

The Other Wife - Michael Robotham *****

No-one is immune to life-changing events. Authors certainly aren't exempt, so it's no surprise that the concerns over personal and family issues often find their way into their work, particularly if you are writing a long-running series with a central character. Perhaps it's inevitable then, but Robotham's latest Joseph O'Loughlin thriller is showing signs of age, or rather showing concerns about aging and coming to terms with the past.

Criminal psychologist Joe O'Loughlin certainly hasn't been immune from life-changing events. His Parkinson's Disease has been progressively worsening over 13 years and is controlled only by medication; his wife Julianne died 16 months previously from a blood clot; and his two teenage children are finding it difficult to come to terms with the loss of their mother, the youngest girl Emma still in a stage of denial which is manifesting in irrational behaviour and causing her problems at school. On top of all this, Joe is now hit with an even bigger family problem; his father William - a retired but well-known and respected surgeon - has been found at the foot of the stairs with his head beaten in and is now in a hospital in a coma.

There's worse to come. His father was found not at home but in an unfamiliar house, and when Joe rushes to visit him in hospital he is confronted with another shock. There is a woman at William's bedside who is not his mother, who claims to be his father's "other wife". Joe's immediate reaction is to be suspicious of the other woman, since the idea of his respectable father, who has to all appearances been in a very stable marriage to his mother for 60 years, leading a double life with another family is simply absurd. His suspicion isn't allayed by the facts that Olivia Blackmore presents to him, but it soon turns to anger as Joe confronts the reality that his father was never the man he thought he was, and that his whole past has been a lie.

Revisiting the past and looking at it in a new light is very much central to Robotham's The Other Wife. O'Loughlin's search to find who attacked his father - carried out unofficially with the collaboration of old friend, retired policeman Vincent Ruiz adding welcome spice to the mix whenever he appears, much to the annoyance of the investigating officers - turns up many further surprises about his father's past and points to him being involved in some very dubious financial affairs. It also brings Joe back into contact with old family friends that causes Joe to reflect on time and how people change. Once great forces are now older, weaker, divorced and remarried to younger women, abandoning old ideals as the world itself changes, presenting a world that no longer conforms to a Waltons or Little House on the Prairie view of family life that Joe may have embraced.

The Other Wife sees Robotham on a different register from his previous book, The Secrets She Keeps. Rather surprisingly it does initially seem to present a trashy bestseller soap-like view of the world, with constant shocks and revelations, with incredible twists of events following in a rolling succession of overheated drama. It's not that the human behaviours aren't real - Robotham is far too good a writer not to keep things grounded in reality - it's just that it feels pushed a little too far into melodrama, with all these secrets that have been kept hidden for so long suddenly tumbling out into the open, all of this on top of the traumatic events that Joe O'Loughlin has to deal with in his family life and in his career treating even more troubled individuals.

Some of those characters appear here, initially in what looks like caricatures, but it soon becomes apparent too that they have real backgrounds where they have been unfairly dealt with by the system. It's in such details that Robotham brings greater depth to the novel and some thoughtful consideration on how the past can't be changed, but how people can perhaps find a way towards redemption. The Other Wife starts out flying then and somehow continues to gather momentum as further extreme events occur - Robotham never short-changes the reader for thrills and revelations - but it is blended in with ordinary domestic events than might not appear life-changing, but they also acquire significance and depth. There's a bigger picture here, there are people's lives involved, and Robotham brings it all together brilliantly.

The Other Wife (Joseph O'Loughlin Book 9) by Michael Robotham is published by Sphere on 26th June 2018

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