CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlante | Book Review

Written by Sherry Joyce

CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlanteI will be thinking about this book for a long time and talking about Alice LaPlante’s clever psychological thriller to friends and book clubs that enjoy this genre. Perhaps because a suspicious death of a prominent plastic surgeon takes place in Palo Alto, the mid-San Francisco Peninsula where I spent thirty-six years, I found myself delighted to be mentally musing and walking in the familiar area. I imagined myself in Samantha’s shoes, the smart, young detective unwilling to accept the plausible answers for why Dr. John Taylor was most likely murdered and who killed him. 

Certainly when not one, not two, but three simultaneous wives are implicated in the crime, you would shake your head at the implausibility—a dedicated plastic surgeon managing to maintain sanity while juggling three wives and a lucrative practice. Yet, when reading the story, you begin to feel empathy for the dead corpse. That’s masterful writing at its best.

As each wife is introduced, you are simultaneously fascinated and shocked as you feel compassion for Deborah, his first and legal wife, then MJ, the second wife, a free-spirited accountant with a difficult past, then Helen, wife number three, an oncologist whose work frequently requires her to deliver devastating news to parents that their child is dying. You are pulled into this complex web, almost certain one of these women killed her husband. However, there are plenty of clues with possible motives implicating Taylor’s partners in his surgery practice. So, maybe it was not one of the wives who was guilty of murder.

It’s not a book so much about “whodunit” as it is about motive. “Whydunit” is what propels you rapidly forward, turning pages of interview transcripts with Samantha and each wife, speaking in the first person, so that you are completely in their heads as you read. You are likely to ask yourself, “What would I have done if I were one of these wives?”

You think you will figure it all out with your detective-sleuthing reading skills. You won’t. You’ll guess, and guess wrong and then guess again.  Alice LaPlante’s writing is that good. Not only will you be unable to put this book down, you want, as the reader, to be a smarter detective than Samantha. You applaud yourself for thinking you could never be complicit in allowing your husband to have two other wives, but then you begin to understand Deborah, MJ, and Helen—perhaps even accept their choices and sacrifices. But then there is Claire who really thickens the plot, and the unusual relationship between MJ and her brother Thomas.

LaPlante creates a young detective, Sam, with insecurities and unwavering determination. Despite her own shaky, ten-year relationship with her boyfriend, Peter, she puts work first. Samantha is likeable, tenacious and unwilling to accept what appears to be the obvious.

Not many authors can keep you reading long into the night, thinking about how the victim died and who would have benefited most from his death. LaPlante plants (pun here) clues that make logical sense, and then they don’t, part of her writing skill. During Samantha’s multiple interviews with the three wives throughout the novel, you think you will see the flaw in the perfect crime.  However, you won’t see the plot twists coming, and they keep surprising. You’ll shake your head and say, “I didn’t see that coming.” That’s what makes CIRCLE OF WIVES a thrill ride of marital deception, betrayal, and discovery.

                                    —Sherry Joyce, Author of The Dordogne Deception

Meet Alice LaPlante and discuss her book at the National Reading Group Month Event
 Co-sponsored by WNBA-SF and Litquake 2014.

Mysteries at Opera Plaza! The Thrill of Shared Reading
October 11, 2014, Saturday, 2:00 -4:00 pm
Books, Inc., Opera Plaza 601 Van Ness Ave., SF 94107

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