Loretta Barnard

Difficult protagonist, difficult to put down: Michael Robotham – The Other Wife

‘The Other Wife’ follows a crime trail walked by a protagonist with Parkinson’s. It is difficult to let that path go cold.

 

 

When Michael Robotham’s first novel, the psychological thriller, The Suspect, was published in 2004, it introduced an unlikely hero – a clinical psychologist suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Since then, Professor Joe O’Loughlin has appeared in another eight novels, the latest of which is as compelling as its predecessors.

O’Loughlin is smart, insightful and like any believable hero, flawed. Over the last 14 years, readers have followed Joe’s personal life in real-time – the ups and downs of his marriage, his relationship with his oldest daughter, the birth of his second child and his ongoing battle with a debilitating neuro-degenerative disease – as closely as the crimes he helps to solve. The Other Wife brings his family and personal life to the fore in a most confronting way.

When Joe is called to his father’s hospital bed after a savage attack, he meets a woman claiming to be his father’s wife. But William already has a wife, has been married for 60 years to Joe’s mother, so what’s going on? What follows is a complicated story of love, anger, rivalry, money, memory and trust. First off, who is this woman who says she’s been married to his father for 20 years? Can he trust her? His father? William’s secret life is a massive jolt, overturning everything Joe thought he knew. It begs the question: how well does anyone really know their parents?

The attack on William becomes a police matter and Joe is warned to keep out of it, but we know he won’t. It’s his family after all. With his long-time friend, retired police officer Vincent Ruiz who often acts as a kind of Greek chorus, Joe sets about unravelling the family mystery. There are many clever twists and turns as you’d expect from a Robotham thriller and often nothing is as it seems.


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As Joe digs deeper, he finds himself questioning his own memories, his own perceptions of the parent-child relationship and contemplating the role of a father, themes that are further explored in the lovely interplay between Joe and his youngest daughter Emma who is still grieving the death of her mother.

I’ve read all 13 of Robotham’s novels and thoroughly enjoyed each one. The reason he’s one of the finest living crime writers is because his attention to detail is excellent and his plots are first-rate. His characterisations are also excellent; they’re well-rounded and genuine. Joe O’Loughlin is one such character. Readers feel close to him, they know him, understand and admire him, and sympathise with his worsening physical condition. Every time Joe was injured in this book – and there were a few times – I winced because like countless other readers, I’ve followed his pain since 2004. So if I have one criticism, it’s the prospect that this is the final Joe O’Loughlin thriller.

In The Other Wife, tensions mount as secrets are revealed. Can his family ever be the same again? It’s riveting reading. “Gripping” is a word that’s tossed about with gay abandon when discussing thrillers, but if the shoe fits…

There’s a lot going on in this fast-paced novel, so be warned – it’s very hard to put down.

 

Loretta Barnard

Loretta Barnard is a freelance writer and editor who has authored four non-fiction books, been a contributing writer to a wide range of reference books and whose essays have been published across a number of platforms. A regular contributor to The Big Smoke, she also coordinates the TBS Next Gen program.

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