For Phoebe Wong, exchanging the miserable British weather for the balmy Florida Keys with her new boyfriend for a few weeks seems like the ideal vacation, even though she only met Carter 11 months ago on LinkedIn and they haven’t spent much time together. He’s the perfect boyfriend who even gets along with her Malaysian-Chinese mother and young daughter. What could possibly go wrong?
The 43-year-old graphic designer’s illusions are soon shattered when Carter’s holiday home, where she is staying, is robbed and her passport, credit cards and cash stolen. Carter has been delayed in Boston due to a work crisis, leaving Phoebe to fend for herself. Fortunately, Roberta, the owner of a nearby bed and breakfast, proves to be exceptionably helpful and the two strike up a friendship. However, Roberta has some thoughts on Carter and cautions Phoebe not to trust him.
Phoebe brushes off Roberta’s warnings and patiently endures Carter’s excuses for delaying his arrival. She doesn’t consider asking Roberta why she believes Carter is unreliable; this is only made clear later. Phoebe is rather naive for her age.
Her irritation with Carter’s absence is temporarily relieved when Phoebe befriends Alvaro, the gardener and pool guy, and his friend, Posh Ed, who does odd jobs such as landscaping and babysitting. They invite Phoebe to a barbeque where she meets Posh Ed’s father, Edward, a British businessman and an investor in BioCore Meditech, the firm Carter works for. It seems the company’s faulty stents are causing losses and the problem may explain Carter’s delay.
Thankfully, Carter shows up and everything is forgotten. Phoebe feels she is living a fairy tale and, for the first time, believes she and her daughter, JoJo, have a future because Carter will support them financially.
However, when she finds out about Carter’s past, the seed of doubt is sown. More strange things start occurring. A rogue snake is found in the house and when Carter tries to remove it, he’s attacked by someone and ends up in hospital. Then, Posh-Ed’s father is murdered and it’s revealed that he has been shifting funds to an offshore company to cut his losses.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s office isn’t particularly helpful in finding the guilty parties in either Carter’s attack or the murder. Either way, Phoebe and her daughter are in danger and she has no idea who she can trust. Ngeow is successful in building suspense and confusing readers – like Phoebe, we’re never sure whether Carter is dependable or not…
Phoebe comes across as rather trusting and although we can attribute her behaviour to the fact she’s fallen in love she met Carter online which normally rings bells for people. Despite her friends’ warnings, she thinks he’s the love of her life and the man she wants to marry when actually she appears to know very little about him. She describes Carter as having George from Seinfeld’s sense of humour and being like the kind of man you might see on Miami Vice. Much of what she knows about him came from LinkedIn, such as the fact that he attended North Carolina State University in Raleigh. If it says so online it has to be true, right?
Phoebe is not a particularly likeable character and it can be challenging to feel sympathy for the situation she’s put herself in. She is mostly passive in her actions, feeling helpless, but doing little to change her predicament.
The inter-racial romance between a Chinese-Malaysian Brit and a Jewish-American has the potential to add an interesting dimension. It would have been more impactful if their relationship and the difficulties such a relationship might bring had been depicted in more detail. References to Phoebe’s cultural background are made in the context of her mother, a frugal woman who played a key role in raising her granddaughter. Given the lack of representation of modern Asian women in crime fiction, creating an Asian woman as the main protagonist is a step in the right direction.
The majority of the story alternates between Phoebe and Carter’s points of view, adding to the narrative’s unpredictability. Other narrators appear towards the end, which may confuse some readers, especially because it could hamper some significant revelations.
Described as a domestic psychological, romantic suspense-thriller, The American Boyfriend is a short, entertaining and fun read that briefly touches on heavier topics like racial discrimination and gun violence.
Also see Katy Wang’s Imposter Syndrome.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars