The luxury penthouse double suite at the pinnacle of Monte Carlo’s Hôtel Metropole couldn’t be the setting for a bevy of beautiful murderers – or could it. In Guilty Wives, James Patterson and David Ellis have used glamour, glitz and lashings of champagne to offset the brutality of a French womens’ prison and the grim reality of a French courthouse, where most of the novel takes place. Abbie and her friends Serena, Bryah and Winnie wake up one morning on a luxury yacht to find two men dead in a car outside and themselves instantly accused of murder.
The preceding 24 hours had passed in a whirlwind of champagne, private jets, gambling and dancing for these four women, on a 4-day long weekend in Monte Carlo while their husbands remain behind in Bern, Switzerland. But unbeknownst to the ladies their husbands are the suspicious type and have also slipped over to Monaco to keep an eye on them, and to maybe teach them a lesson. Was this – a murder accusation – the lesson they intended? There is no clue or hint as to why the women are accused of murder, nor why they are imprisoned for terrorism.
The terrorism accusation means they can be interrogated for 72 hours by specialist police without a lawyer, before they are finally granted aid. And then where are their husbands? Ranging from mining magnate to diplomats the husbands seem powerless – or are they cleverly manipulating things from behind the scenes? The women cannot explain anything surrounding the events that they find themselves embroiled in, and without confessing to crimes they did not commit, they are doomed to be sentenced to life in prison.
Abbie, the most highly principled and strong-willed of the four, refuses to cooperate and for her idealism all four women are sent to a maximum security womens’ prison where they are to spend the rest of their natural lives. The descriptions of prison life in a highly crowded, highly regulated prison are gruesome in their detail and more than once I found myself having to take a break from the story to appreciate the freedoms that I take for granted. Like fresh air, and sunshine, and the choice of when to turn the lights out.
For a James Patterson story this takes a while to get to the fast-paced action that we are used to but is nevertheless gripping and by the final pages there is no time to take a breath. And from the glittering start to the nailbiting finish there is plenty to keep you interested.
Available now: Random House RRP$32.95