Vicki works as an aromatherapist, healing her clients out of her home studio with her special blends of essential oils. She’s just finishing a session when the police arrive on her doorstep–her ex-husband David has gone missing. Vicki insists she last saw him years ago when they divorced, but the police clearly don’t believe her. And her memory’s hardly reliable–what if she didhave something to do with it?
Meanwhile, Scarlet and her mother Zelda are down on their luck, and at eight years old, Scarlet’s not old enough to know that the “game” her mother forces her to play is really just a twisted name for dealing drugs. Soon, Zelda is caught, and Scarlet is forced into years of foster care–an experience that will shape the rest of her life…
When Vicki’s ex-husband goes missing, she suddenly finds herself the prime suspect in his disappearance but even she’s not sure if she’s innocent. After an accident left her with severe epilepsy, Vicki has lapses of memory which leave her unsure of what she’s done so when the police present their evidence she’s unable to refute it. When Vicki is eventually arrested, things go from bad to worse as the evidence mounts against her and it becomes increasingly obvious she is being set up. Or does it?
If I had to chose one word to describe The Dead Ex it would definitely be convoluted as the plot is thick with twists and turns, however it is so convoluted I found myself losing patience with it. As well as Vicki, there are two other female narrators and it takes a while to work out how they all fit together into the story but it begins to make more sense once certain facts come to light. Vicki is our main protagonist, however she is also the most unreliable due to her medical condition and her unresolved issues with her ex-husband. Quite early on Vicki admits she doesn’t always take her prescribed medication because of the way it affects her memory so that immediately puts some doubt into our minds as to whether Vicki is completely innocent or not. This state of affairs lasts throughout much of the story and is an effective way of keeping the reader unsettled.
Additionally, Vicki is harbouring a lot of resentment over the the end of her marriage and she clearly wants revenge, however she admits to still loving her husband and she does a lot of stupid things because of it. Frustratingly, Vicki makes herself look guilty when she admits to calling her husband’s mobile just to hear his voice and walking past their former home which is eventually attributed to as stalking behaviour. When Vicki is warned not to interfere in the investigation, she ignores her solicitor’s advice and ends up making everything worse. I don’t want to reveal too much about Vicki’s life prior to her current situation as the reveals happen at important points to weave the plot together and it would spoil it. I can’t say I particularly liked Vicki all that much and her choices were particularly questionable so she brought a lot of the trouble down upon herself.
The epilepsy was also used frustratingly as Vicki was prone to having fits at the drop of a hat in the initial stages of the novel but she barely has one at all in the later stages even though she is enduring a trial which has to be pushing all her stress buttons. Something that is made out to be so debilitating is increasingly pushed into the background until you barely remember its significance.
Our second narrator is Scarlett, a young girl who ends up in foster care when her mother is jailed for drug dealing, and it takes a while before we learn how her story fits into the main plot. Scarlett is initially quite endearing as she describes her mother’s antics through her childish perception but the underlying trauma is anything but endearing. Scarlett’s mother is manipulative but Scarlett is too young to understand this and it’s horrifying watching how she shapes her daughter’s life even from a jail cell. Scarlett is also an unreliable narrator because of how she is manipulated but you can read between the lines with her easier.
Our third and final narrator is Helen, a photography student who has an ulterior motive for getting close to David but I can’t say too much about her role without spoiling the plot. At this point, I should probably mention all the narrators are in different timelines with Vicki being the most current, apart from the flashbacks to her past, while Scarlett is set about a decade ago. Helen’s narrative starts about a year before David’s disappearance and progresses up to the point he goes missing by which time the narratives start to converge into the present. If you don’t pay attention to who is narrating, it can get very confusing and, you guessed it, convoluted.
While I don’t hate this novel, I didn’t exactly love it either but I will probably check out the author’s other stories.