In Poppy Page’s mind, there are two types of women in this world: those who are faithful to their husbands, and those who are not. Until now, Poppy has never questioned which she was.
But when handsome, charming Matthew Gordon walks back into her life after almost two decades, that changes. Poppy makes a single mistake – and that mistake will be far more dangerous than she could imagine.
Someone is going to pay for it with their life . . .
Poppy Page, once an aspiring actress, now runs her own successful casting agency but her marriage is stuck in a rut and she yearns for a bit of passion in her life. At an industry Christmas event, Poppy is astonished when her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Gordon, a veteran actor, turns up and it is obvious the old feelings between them still exist. When the weather turns bad, Poppy has to spend the night at the hotel and the opportunity to sleep with Matthew does present itself but Poppy is determined not to be that woman and retreats to her room alone. Returning to her family the following day, Poppy can’t help feeling a little guilty for enjoying Matthew’s company so much and makes an effort to rekindle the spark in her marriage, however her dentist husband is more interested in his latest research paper. Poppy also begins to suspect Simon is having an affair with his research partner and it adds to her insecurities.
When Poppy becomes concerned about the health of her elderly father, she rushes to her childhood home and Matthew saves the day by helping her find a hotel room on short notice. Stressed by what’s going on in her marriage and with her father, Poppy ends up pouring her heart out to Matthew and they finally spend a passionate night together. Although Poppy enjoyed being with Matthew, she is determined it will never happy again but is dismayed when Matthew refuses to leave her alone. Much to her horror, Matthew sends her a picture of them together in bed and threatens to send it to her husband if Poppy doesn’t agree to meet him again. As Matthew’s stalking turns more sinister, Poppy watches helplessly as he infiltrates every aspect of her life.
The events surrounding Poppy’s encounter with Matthew are actually told in flashback and her narrative is split by episodes where she is being observed giving evidence in court. We learn that Matthew has been killed quite early on but it takes a while before we learn what actually happened to him and why Poppy is being accused of killing him. The identity of the observer is also kept under wraps but it is far from clear that Poppy is the guilty party.
The second narrator of the novel is Betty, Poppy’s mother-in-law, who recounts the story of her life through a letter she writes to Poppy. Raised in an era where women were subservient to men, Betty tells Poppy about falling in love with her husband, Jock, and her disappointment when he turns out to be controlling and abusive. Despite her husband’s jealousy, Betty manages to form a bond with Jane who is pregnant at the same time as her but their friendship proves to be ill-fated. As Jane grapples with post-natal depression, Betty disobeys her husband to help out Jane’s family and unwittingly sets in course a series of events which will alter her life.
The pace is very slow and that did become a problem for me because it drags the story down somewhat and it feels like it is going nowhere. Although the characters of the women are reasonably drawn, the men were less so and Matthew comes across as little more than a stereotypical villain with empty threats as nothing he does is particularly chilling. Poppy’s situation isn’t that remarkable and a lot of it is brought on by her own inaction so it’s difficult to feel sympathy for her. Betty is marginally more interesting and it is obvious her husband’s death has given her a new lease of life since she is now free to do all the things he frowned upon. Neither Poppy nor Simon seem to have noticed this significant change in her though which isn’t that surprising since they are so wrapped up in their own lives.