"The First Mistake" by Sandie Jones
I was fucking terrible at dating.
Probably due in large part to the fact that I questioned my self-worth, I had a really hard time... believing... that someone would both want me and be honest with me.
Back in my dating days, I use to fret and worry to no end.
Prior to the ability to location track, and early in the reign of cell phones, I had few technologies available to ease these worries.
If I tried to call a boyfriend and he failed to answer, I couldn't just hop on my insta or check his Twitter and try to puzzle out a reason why he might not be responding.
Instead, I was left only to assume the absolute worst.
He was, for sure, snuggled in bed, wrapped in the legs of another, more magnetic, more engaging, more attractive, definitely more slender, woman, I would think.
And these thoughts, which repeated on an endless loop in my mind, would drive me to distraction.
At the time, I remember thinking that this perpetual suspicion was a negative quality. But now, older, less trusting, more jaded, I wonder if it, in fact, was a detriment. Or if, instead, it might have been an asset.
After all, suspicious me would never have been put through the shit that the woman in Sandie Jones' most recent release, The First Mistake, was forced to endure.
Nah. I'm not Betty *fucking* Draper. You're gonna have to get up way earlier to pull a fast one on me.
I woulda seen right through that shit.
But Alice isn’t suspicious.
Though she has, perhaps, been unlikely in life, she has always been likely in love — or so she thinks.
She absolutely adored her first husband, Tom, father to her oldest daughter.
He loved her unconditionally.
He supported her emotionally.
And he helped her realize her dreams, using a large chunk of his inheritance to start a design company, which Alice still owns.
Given the fact that Tom is, clearly, such an all around wonderful man, Alice was beyond devastated when, while enjoying a solo ski outing, he disappeared.
Now, many years later, Tom is long-ago presumed dead and Alice has moved on with her life, remarrying and having a second daughter with her new husband, Nathan.
Though Tom’s shoes would be admittedly hard to fill, Nathan seems to have done a wonderful job of it, taking a leadership role at the design firm and remaining almost preternaturally patient with Alice, who understandably still struggles to deal with the emotional impact of her first husband’s death.
But Nathan isn’t Alice’s only support.
She also has a best friend, Beth.
The role Beth serves in Alice’s life becomes even more important when Beth begins to suspect that Nathan is being unfaithful.
Though straying from the marriage seems grossly out of Nathan’s character, as evidence of his infidelity piles up, Alice finds it difficult to assuage her suspicions.
Unfortunately for Alice, when she digs deeper, hoping the truth lies just under the surface, she finds instead that it won’t be that simple.
The deeper she digs the more frantic she becomes, as it starts to appear that every supposed truth on which she has based her life is actually a lie.
Nowadays it seems like everyone is on the hunt for the next twist-rich thriller.
This truth amplifies the challenge of writing a contemporary thriller.
It used to be all a thriller writer needed was a little intrigue and a couple jump scares and she would have a passably good thriller.
But now readers absolutely demand some mind-bending, Earth-shattering twist. A twist that is surprising enough that no one would see it coming yet believable enough it would realistically have happened.
So did this book work by that admittedly difficult measure?
Well yes and no.
More yes than no, TBH, but still.
The largest, most impactful, twists in this book did surprise me.
I was well into the book before I even began piecing it together. And even then, I wasn’t sure I was right about the twist until it was confirmed.
But then there were some other...sub-twists, if you will...that served as more of a hindrance than a help.
The first problem: Some of these twists just didn't really ring true.
For example, at one point in time, Alice sees a Facebook profile that strongly suggests that her beloved first husband isn't actually dead at all. Instead, she begins to believe, he’s run off by choice and is out there with a whole new family.
And, to add insult to injury, he’s blissfully happy.
Happy in a way that Alice never made him.
While I understand how this red herring was a necessary tool to drive the narrative, the explanation ultimately provided for it just didn’t ring true.
I didn’t believe that *AGAIN, THIS IS A SPOILER* Beth, who had spent time befriending Alice — so presumably had some idea who Alice really was at her core — would still be so sure that Nathan and Alice had worked together to screw her over.
I mean, Beth knows better than anyone how manipulative Nathan can be, so she didn’t — even for one second — allow herself to believe that he was manipulating Alice, too?
Nah. I don't buy it.
And, unfortunately, this isn’t the only example.
There were quite a few subplots that… didn’t feel right.
And that brings me to my second issue with these sub-twists: There were too many of them.
After while, the sheer quantity of these extraneous plot points made the book feel a little hodge podge.
It sometimes felt like the author was just throwing stuff at a board to see what stuck.
Like there was too much intrigue.
Too much coincidence.
Like it was all too implausible.
At one point, I found myself wondering, Is this a fucking fever dream or something?
Is this like my student teaching semester, when I got super sick and dreamed that I wanted to get out of bed but couldn't because I was buried under a pile of gowns stars had recently worn to the Oscars?
But despite this sub-plot-related annoyance, the through line of the book was really solid.
The largest twists in the book were absolutely believable.
And the narrative structure was wholly effective.
I do think this is a book that thriller readers will not just like, but will remember well after they finish it.
It’s a book, I think, that will provide a cautionary lesson to novice daters. And one that will, unfortunately for the men they are dating, heighten the distrust exhibited by people who — like 20-year-old me — utterly suck at believing that their partners aren’t, in fact, big fucking liars.
This thriller earns a solid 4 out of 5 cocktails.
Have you read this one yet? Tell me how you felt about the twists in the comments, below. *But be sure to spoiler alert as necessary*
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