If only the main characters of Samantha Downing’s new psychological suspense thriller, A Twisted Love Story, would tell the truth once in a while. Then, a lot of their problems would be solved and maybe even avoided. Wes Harmon and Ivy Banks have been an on-again, off-again couple for almost a decade – ever since college – and their breakups are every bit as passionate as their reunions. But if they each harbour secrets, they also share a growing list of them. And those shared secrets put them on a slippery path leading straight to prison.
Early on, Wes meets the couple’s main antagonist, Karen Colglazier. She’s a detective with the Sex Crimes Unit of Fair Valley, California, the rather featureless mid-sized town where Wes and Ivy live. It seems Ivy has accused him of stalking her and described to Colglazier the ominous notes, presents – including a box of half-eaten chocolates – and pictures she’s been receiving. Nothing against the law, technically. Not so far, but Colglazier believes a visit from the police often puts a stop to such low-level harassment. Wes denies doing any of it, but then he would, wouldn’t he?
Colglazier made the strategic decision to confront Wes at his office. Siphon, Inc is a company that links investors with start-up companies. It’s the kind of business where good faith goes a long way, and client relations staff with sketchy police involvement isn’t a good look. Colglazier knows that, and it’s a subtle double-punch to her message.
Wes is unaware that someone in the office – the new admin assistant, Bianca – is more than a little interested in this visit from the police. Bianca is a snoop. She’s cadged a master key to the offices, and after hours she checks desks and computers for informative tidbits. When she uncovers some trivial evidence of Wes’s interest in a fatal hit-and-run accident from several years before, her interest intensifies.
Ivy, fierce and funny, has perhaps the weakest impulse control you’ll ever encounter in fiction, and Wes believes that reporting the alleged stalking was her way of getting his attention. In the past, she’s used some dramatic, even damaging, ways to do that. He’s obviously on Ivy’s mind because when he shows up at her apartment the night of Colglazier’s visit, she gives every indication she was expecting him. The relationship, heavily burdened with the baggage of past mistakes, is on again.
Ivy shares her regrets about reporting Wes to the police and pretty much every other emotional state she has with her best friend since childhood. Heath never tires of telling Ivy how bad Wes is for her. You will probably feel that this goes both ways. If you read the questions sent to newspaper advice columnists you may sometimes wonder how and why people put up with the situations they’re in. Wes and Ivy’s relationship is an example so bad that if it were real it would go into text books on the subject.
Detective Colglazier is far from convinced by Ivy’s new forgiving attitude toward Wes. She believes Ivy’s denials are further evidence of how afraid and beaten down she is. It isn’t entirely convincing that a Sex Crimes Unit detective could become so closed-minded. Her prominent blind spot may be in the wrong place in this instance, but her instinct that more is going on here than meets the eye is correct.
Wes and Ivy may seem doomed to keep reenacting their breakups and reconciliations, but it’s Colglazier’s doggedness that creates the book’s tension. Can they ever be free of their past mistakes without being free of each other? The nature of this dark secret is where A Twisted Love Story’s intrigue lies.
Author Samantha Downing uses short chapters from multiple points of view to keep the story moving at a fast clip, and her writing style is easy to read. She gives Ivy and Wes jobs, friends outside each other, and their own apartments, but it’s their relationship that dominates their thoughts and actions. For most of the book, this relationship holds few surprises, and it’s the interference of the other characters – Colglazier, Heath, Bianca, and more – that keeps the story from getting bogged down.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars