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It's been more than a decade since Elissa Wald published Holding Fire. She returns to the publishing scene with her new novel, the scandalously delicious The Secret Lives of Married Women, under the Hard Case Crime imprint.
This is the story of twin sisters Leda and Lillian. In Part One, Leda and her husband Stas move into their new home in the suburbs of Vancouver, Washington. Leda is a former actress who now dedicates her time to taking care of their daughter while waiting for the birth of their next child. Stas is an engineer at Intel. He's a Russian who fled his homeland for mysterious reasons and collects guns and Kevlar as a hobby.
Their life in the suburbs is an idyllic one until the contractor working on the house next door keeps coming over, especially when Leda is home alone. He insists he's seen her face before, but can't place it. When he finally does, a dark period from Leda's past threatens to reveal itself. Fearful for her life, Leda tells her husband about her stalker. Stas and a friend from Russia go talk to the contractor, who suddenly goes missing. Is Stas a killer? Leda doesn't know. She has no proof, but the thought terrifies and excites her at the same time.
In Part Two, Lillian is a successful lawyer in New York who takes the case of an affluent builder facing charges of corruption. The builder is blind and relies on his beautiful young assistant, Nan, to help him with paperwork and the day-to-day running of his business. Nan's previous job was a professional submissive at a swank S&M parlor. It's a confession that startles the feminist Lillian, and sparks curiosity. Her own marriage is on the rocks and it's only a matter of time before she and her husband sign divorce papers. A brief journey into Nan's previous life has remarkable effects on Lillian's view of sex and could be what her marriage needs to survive.
Elissa Wald is a master observer who delves deep into the psyche of men and women, and examines the marriage relationship like an archaeologist pulling back layer after layer of unspoken desires and dirty secrets. Hard Case books are known for pulp-quality sex and violence. While Secret Lives has some of the former, it hints at the latter, which is just as exciting and makes for good storytelling.
Praise also goes to Glen Orbik, whose cover art is powerful and titillating.