“Hitchcockian chills and thrills abound in Swanson’s latest mystery, a twisty tale of survival and deception. ” — O, the Oprah Magazine
“[A] pulse-pounding not-so-happily-ever-after thriller.” — The Big Thrill
In human history, is there anything more dangerous than the fragile male ego? At root, it can be blamed for a majority of war and suffering across the ages. Closer to home, it’s also the foundation of plenty of marital misery, which is the terrain that Peter Swanson stalks in his seventh consistently excellent suspense novel — Every Vow You Break (William Morrow).
The teaser line on the cover proclaims that “The Lies Started With ‘I Do.’” That’s not really true. In the whirlwind courtship of Abigail Baskin, a struggling staffer at a small poetry-focused press (publishing-speak for “broke”), and Bruce Lamb, tech bazillionaire turned venture capitalist, the lies and manipulation start pretty much from the moment rich guy says “hi” to poor, cute girl in a Manhattan coffee shop. Wealth tends to bestow courage, erasing the no-game nerd many of these tech titans used to be, and so Bruce has the gumption to walk right up to this attractive stranger and ask her to dinner that same night. Abigail accepts. At least she’ll get a free meal at an expensive restaurant out of it, she figures. It gives away nothing to say she will rue the day …
LIVING THE HIGH LIFE COMES AT A PRICE
Attentive to the point of seeming worshipful, Bruce puts Abigail on a pedestal that is hard to resist. She’s been swept up by a modern-day prince with unlimited resources. If her fiancé sometimes feels like a stranger to her, well, that must be her issue. The very rich really are different. Getting used to her elevated, have-anything-you-want circumstances can be disorienting. If it means losing some friends and questioning her own ambitions in the shadow of someone so successful, that seems like a minor price to pay.
There is, however, one essential condition to her union with Bruce Lamb: Fidelity. It seems reasonable. It is a cornerstone vow of marriage, after all. It carries further personal weight for Bruce. As a boy, his mother was unfaithful to his father, and the repercussions blew up his family.
And so, when Abigail succumbs to an unfortunate one-night stand on her bachelorette weekend, she tries to bury the guilt and move forward with her nuptials with a renewed devotion to her husband-to-be. Unfortunately, the man on the other side of the “stand” is rather taken with Abigail. To the point of apparent obsession. Despite her efforts to rebuff his follow-up advances, to her horror, there he is at their honeymoon — on a tech-free island off the coast of Maine.
OFF THE GRID BUT NOT OUT OF REACH
These cut-the-cord luxury retreats are something you may have read about. With an irony that feels close to an admission of guilt, they’re particularly popular with tech types in need of recharging their brains — by cutting out the very devices they’re responsible for creating. (Some of these Silicon Valley hypocrites are also known to send their children to back-to-nature Waldorf Schools — a side note that is perhaps rich territory for some future suspense novel …)
In Every Vow You Break, it serves as an ideal plot device. In addition to the island’s stunning natural beauty and over-the-top luxuries, the lack of device distractions makes it perfect for honeymooning couples. Their attention will be where it belongs: on each other.
Sounds lovely and idyllic, doesn’t it? Then, why can’t Abigail get comfortable? Why won’t the random guy from her bachelorette leave her alone? Why does everything feel just a bit too … scripted? And why is there only one other honeymooning woman on the island — who is equally rattled by a past romantic entanglement?
In each of his novels, Swanson tends to excel at strong female characters. They might be flawed, they might not always behave ethically, or in the way society expects, but they’re never the weaker sex. As monstrous as that delicate male ego can be, it’s never a match for strong women.
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