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  • Writer's pictureHannah Brennan

The Ex-Wives - Jenna Kernan

Published by Bookoture, Monday 10th October 2022

Quite often I find myself so absorbed by a story that I read it in one setting - but that wasn't my experience with The Ex Wives. Kernan's story is so tense, so claustrophobic, that I found myself reeling and needing a break - and that is an equally great compliment.

The Ex Wives follows Elana, the third wife of a deeply dangerous husband who must save herself and Phoebe, her daughter from a previous, from their oppressive and abusive home.

Elana has already worked out that her perfect husband from the whirlwind romance is not the man he pretended to be, but it's the arrival of the FBI that makes her realise just how dangerous he is. Both his ex-wives had young daughters, and both young daughters went missing shortly after they divorced Jackson.

Phoebe's father passed away, and Elena's only family are his elderly parents - too far away to help, and too easily deterred from visiting by her husband. As the book progresses, both Elana and the reader are dragged deeper into Jackson's web, with more and more avenues for escape slowly shut off.

Getting started

I loved the opening of this book - particularly the setting. I read so many UK crime writers that reading something American felt like a novelty. The small-town America setting of Bald Cypress only piles on the pressure on Elana, our protagonist.

Kernan makes an interesting choice to take us out of the domestic setting very quickly. I won't spoil the first third of the novel, but the events that unfold early on had me totally gripped. Early on, Kernan sets us up for the book to go in one of two directions, and along with Elana, we are on a precipice, with no idea what we're about to head into.

Quite a character

I'm generally quite unsympathetic to passive characters in novels, but I didn't feel that way about Elana. Kernan's lead is passive, but only because she has very few options available to her. On a technical note, I think I find passive characters more frustrating when the prose is in first person, but Kernan's close-third is a masterclass in getting into the character's head, without having to live in her head.

My only caveat to reading this novel would be I hope you like properly villainous-villains. Jackson has no redeeming quality and he is not granted any sympathetic moments. In some cases this can feel clumsy, but in Kernan's case she pulls it off, because the supporting cast of Jackson's associates are nuanced. His brother Sawyer and sister-in-law Zoey were particular favourites of mine.

.. oh, and it's also great for dog lovers...

Alright in the end

Thrillers are only ever as good as their endings (I don't think that is a saying, but it should be). I approached the ending of The Ex Wives with trepidation, after enjoying the book so much, but I needn't have worried.

Kernan pulls off several twists and a suitably shocking ending. I was left feeling immensely satisfied, and more than a little unsettled.

It's a big tick from me

I really enjoyed The Ex Wives. Bookoture rarely put a foot wrong when it comes to pacy thrillers with a domestic setting, so I had high hopes, and wasn't disappointed.

Overall, I think Kernan has created a pressure-cooker of a book, that kept me held in suspense and a state of slight despair. If that isn't a pleasurable way to spend a few hours of down-time, I don't know what is.

I feel like it would make an excellent Audible listen. Give me a shout on Instagram if you read it and let me know what you think!

  • Find it on Amazon here

  • Find it on Audible here

I was given a free advanced-reader copy of this book, in exchange for a review.

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