The Wrong Woman, J.P. Pomare

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

THE WRONG WOMAN is the first foray from J.P. Pomare overtly set in the US, and it was, for this reader, utterly seamless in its evocation of an American feeling small town. Helped a lot by the central character ex-cop, now Private Investigator Reid being from this particular community, and all too aware of the politics therein, the society and personal pressures and how they can lead to all sorts of problems for all sorts of people. 

The novel relies on a lot of complications on a lot of levels. Starting out with Reid himself, an ex-cop, now private investigator, back in the town he fled years ago. As he returns, the second of two teenage girls goes missing, an investigation that he's not there to handle. Instead he's in town to look into a suspicious car crash for an insurance company who say they want it checked out urgently before they are prepared to pay out to the widow Eshana Stiles who was driving the car that badly injured her, killing her older, English professor husband, Oliver. 

Complication one is Reid had promised the local Chief of Police (and incidentally, father of one of the missing teenagers) that he would never return to the town in which he'd been a cop, after a career ending scandal.

Complication two is that the insurance company are being very pushy about this investigation, offering a lot of money to get it done in a hurry which is too much temptation for Reid, so he finds himself in Manson, trying to keep a low-profile and get what he assumes will be a quick look at a car crash on a wet and dark night over and done with. 

Complication three is that Eshana is unconcious, and when she does wake from a coma, has no memory of the crash and the lead up to it at all. And something's not right about the way the whole thing looks. Something's also not right about what seemed like a successful life and marriage for Oliver and Eshana, and there's definitely something about Oliver that's complicated and hidden.

But as well as complications THE WRONG WOMAN is a novel that tests the boundaries of preconceptions. Is the now dead Oliver all that he seems, and why do we struggle so much with the idea that wives aren't always to blame, and sometimes victims aren't completely blameless? Pomare works with the idea that any professor marrying a much younger ex-student (ex by dint of a blink of time) might not be all that he seems, that Eshana may, or may not, have reasons to doubt what he says.

Yet another complication quickly emerges when it becomes known that Oliver was a "person of interest" in the disappearance of at least one of the teenage girls, and as Eshana starts to recover from her injuries, it turns out she's had a lot questions in the lead up to the crash as well.

Pomare deftly uses the viewpoints of both Reid and Eshana in this novel to weave together past and present timelines, ramping up the tension with each little discovery that Reid makes and Eshana reveals. Along the way, two vulnerable people in their own rights are exposed, each determined to understand what happened, and it's more than than just the car crash itself.

Pomare seems to have a knack of writing standalone novels that are populated with fully developed characters, and scenarios that really make you think a lot about gut reactions, expectations and what is often a more nuanced, complicated truth. Fingers crossed he keeps it up for many more novels.

Year of Publication

A private investigator returning to the hometown he fled years ago becomes entangled in the disappearance of two teenage girls in this stunning literary crime thriller.

Reid left the small town of Manson a decade ago, promising his former Chief of Police boss he'd never return. He made a new life in the city, became a PI and turned his back on his old life for good.

Now an insurance firm has offered him good money to look into a suspicious car crash, and he finds himself back in the place he grew up - home to his complicated family history, a scarring relationship breakdown and a very public career-ending incident.

As Reid's investigation unfolds, nothing is as it seems: rumours are swirling about the well-liked young woman who was driving the car which killed her professor husband, while a second local student has just disappeared. As Reid veers off course from the job he has been paid to do, will he find himself in the dangerous position of taking on the town again?

Review The Wrong Woman, J.P. Pomare
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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