The Wreckage of Us by Dan Malakin

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The Wreckage of Us by Dan Malakin front cover

It’s been two years since Dan Malakin‘s thriller The Box kept readers glued to the pages. With his latest crime thriller Malakin conjures up a story reminiscent of Gillian Flynn’s popular Gone Girl, asking the question: “Did the husband do it?”

32-year-old Astrid Webb is missing. The wreckage of her car has been found near some woods in rural Lancashire, the driver’s door open with blood on the steering wheel. Bryan, her husband, receives this disturbing news when he returns from his morning bike ride. He seems stunned and perplexed by his wife’s accident and disappearance.

As far as he was concerned, Astrid never left the house because a crippling illness prevented her from doing so and he was her carer. Did her medical condition contribute to the accident and why was she driving on that particular road? It seems both Bryan and the police have many unresolved issues and loose ends to figure out.

Although The Wreckage of Us’s premise appears straightforward, there is more to Bryan and Astrid’s marriage than meets the eye, as revealed by various points of view and timelines. From the perspectives of Bryan, Astrid and a seemingly unconnected 17-year-old called Celine, a complex picture begins to take shape – one that doesn’t quite come together until the last few pages.

Bryan is a well-respected community member who served for 25 years as a police officer before leaving to start a charity that supports women who have been abused. He’s also a devoted husband who sacrificed his career to care for his much younger wife.

The couple met when Astrid sought police assistance to protect her from her stalker, Niall Turton. Bryan came to Astrid’s rescue and became her protector, but the experience left her emotionally scarred. Despite Bryan’s support, Astrid began to experience agonising pain, including migraines, nausea and back spasms, accompanied by depression, which could only be controlled with strong medication. As a result, they were forced to relocate to the countryside, alienating Astrid from her friends and family in Manchester.

At the same time, we see Astrid’s point of view and the events that led up to the crash. The story jumps between the crash and events before and afterwards, but you won’t be confused by the shifts in timelines and characters’ perspectives. It does, however, succeed in shaking up our idea of who the culprit might be.

Astrid’s perception of her husband differs from the Bryan that the rest of the world knows. Her account of their marriage and the events surrounding her disappearance gradually sheds light on the reasons for it. Malakin is especially skilled at giving his readers just enough information to keep them interested and intrigued. We’re never quite sure if Astrid is emotionally unstable or if her husband is hiding behind a facade.

Fortunately, the two detectives tasked with investigating Astrid’s disappearance and bringing the guilty party to justice are better equipped than we are. DI Gabriel Ronson, a man still struggling to cope with his wife’s death, and DS Jess Maxwell aren’t convinced by Bryan Webb’s pedigree as a former police office or his social standing. They are also not convinced that Niall Turton can be held responsible for Astrid’s disappearance. Astrid’s ex-stalker has since been arrested twice for indecent exposure and inciting public indecency, but he is unlikely to be responsible for her kidnapping.

The third perspective of the troubled young Celine may perplex some readers, but it’s a shrewd addition to the more predictable he-said-she-said narrative often used. How does the story of a 17-year-old girl in a relationship with Seth, a sophisticated, wealthy, older man relate to Astrid Webb’s disappearance? When the body of another woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Astrid is discovered near the location where she vanished, the story becomes even murkier.

But fear not, all the twists and turns converge perfectly in a deliciously satisfying end. The Wreckage of Us is a taut, cleverly written and gripping work of domestic noir that delivers a sense of unease and a healthy dose of skepticism towards the institution of marriage.

Read our review of Dan Malakin’s 2019 novel, The Regret.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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