Relationships--much like dairy products and produce--can go bad when you least expect it (and in really unpleasant ways). Unlike the half-empty carton of lumpy milk you lost interest in or the mushy head of lettuce you just plain forgot, though, soured relationships are a whole lot messier to deal with.
There are things almost impossible to forgive, forget, or get past--betrayals, secret lives, abuse, infidelities, criminal acts, major differences about the most fundamental of concepts--any one of which can make the thought of continuing a relationship untenable.
But, when all of those things are present--as they are in Merry Jones’ upcoming thriller, The Trouble with Charlie--well, that’s when things can go from bad to worst in a hurry.
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After some of the stuff he pulled during the ten years they were together, Elle knows she should be glad to be rid of her almost-ex husband, Charlie. There were the lies (so many lies), the infidelities, and the stealing (like when he helped himself to her entire savings to cover a shady investment deal). Sure, in the beginning he’d charmed the pants off her (literally) and made her laugh... but that was just his way, with everyone. Only when the rosy glow had worn off a little did Elle begin to understand that Charming Charlie cared considerably more for himself and his own needs than he ever would for her.
Still, she would never wish him ill... not truly ill.
So, on the first night she’s allowed herself to be persuaded to go out--as a nearly-single woman--by one of her girlfriends, her heart isn’t really in it. The bar scene is too strange and she feels uncomfortable and conspicuous; she decides to go home early.
Instead of finding peace and quiet, though, she walks in on a nightmare--something too horrible to believe, too shocking to comprehend... Charlie, lying in a pool of his own blood on her sofa, with one of her kitchen knives stuck in his back. Dead, so very, very dead.
And Elle, naturally, is the prime suspect.
She’s fortunate to have three BFFs from childhood to believe in her innocence, bolster her spirits, and, in the case of one of them--a lawyer--to advise and defend her. Unfortunately, however, the police seem to have some reservations... and not even Elle, herself, can be entirely sure she didn’t murder the estranged Charlie.
Elle, you see, has always had a tendency to mentally wander off during conversations, or while doing mundane activities. Her friends affectionately call it “pulling an Elle”, and it’s something which has never been a problem... until now, when she realizes there are blank spots in her memory from the time she got home after work until she returned again from the bar, later that evening, and found Charlie. She doesn’t think she could’ve killed him, in cold blood... but how can she be certain??
Still, the police continue looking into other possibilities in regard to Charlie’s death; affable he may have been, but he and his business partner had played fast and loose with their clients’ money, so there could be motives aplenty out there. Maybe.
It isn’t until a few days later, when Elle drops by Charlie’s apartment with the unhappy task of picking out a burial suit, that things really go bad, though. She surprises an intruder, winds up in a scuffle... and one of them ends up dead. (Here’s a hint: the no-longer-breathing one isn’t Elle.)
Knowing she only has a short time before the police circle, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and find out, once and for all, who killed Charlie--and why the man whom she definitely killed broke in and was ransacking Charlie’s place.
Her investigation leads her to a plethora of Pandora’s Boxes which she would rather have never found, let alone opened. She’s horrified to learn that among Charlie’s secrets were some very shady deals, truly nasty business associates, and close ties to an international ring of pedophiles.
Those kinds of secrets? They’re the ones other people don’t ever want you to know... the kind that can get you dead.
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I was quite keen on reading The Trouble with Charlie after seeing a synopsis: woman finds her soon-to-be-ex husband dead--but doesn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’s not the one who killed him? Creepy-good stuff, that... and Jones delivers a suitably-chilling tale.
What I wasn’t expecting--but found utterly fascinating--is the dissociative disorder(s) Elle is diagnosed with, in the course of trying to establish her innocence. I’ve always “zoned out” like she does, too--but never thought it could be a kind of coping mechanism, getting away from something unpleasant or distressing (or uncomfortable or just plain boring).
Another surprising element is the voice from beyond, if you will; Charlie “speaks” to Elle, and we, as the readers, can take that however literally (or not) we choose. (Who is to say whether or not the recently, dearly [or not-so] departed return to have it out with us? Maybe they really do chat with us, tease, or chastise us... or maybe we just imagine it... but either way, I suspect it feels very real, and necessary.)
As for the mystery, well... truthfully, I wasn’t far off in my suspicions, but then something else came zinging out of left field (albeit in a very reasonable way), so The Trouble with Charlie worked for me on that count, too. Score!