“Book Review: Better Off Guilty”
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A family drama thriller with a killer twist
When rookie private investigator Max Adara’s cousin is murdered, she is well aware that this might just be the case that breaks her. Not only does it mean digging into the private life of her cousin, one of the only family members who still loved her, but with this death in the family, Max’s estranged mother is back.
And with her comes all the buried memories Max had hoped to forget.
Meanwhile, Abril Hart is used to compartmentalizing. Between working as an arsonist for her father and being a wife and mother, her life depends on it. When someone starts burning on her home turf, she realizes that maybe this time she can’t keep work and home separate any longer.
But that separation has been the only thing that has kept her husband and son safe. With all of their lives in jeopardy, she is going to have to up her game and figure out who she can trust before time runs out.
A standalone thriller, Better Off Guilty is a truly appealing read for fans of domestic noir as well as those who enjoy flawed and often unreliable narrators. Telling the story from these two very different perspectives allows us to see this complicated story from both sides. It’s only as the tale unfolds that it becomes clear that there is more going on behind the scenes.
The choice of viewpoint characters is a good one. Max and Abril are worlds apart in wealth, education, manners, and personality, but they have a couple of important things in common. Both of them are falling apart under the pressure of their lives, but often at different times; while Max collapses under pressure, Abril thrives. While the differences between the viewpoint characters ensures that the story never stalls, Max or Abril aren’t always active participants in the story. Their actions can occasionally read like a string of reactions to outside forces rather than conscious choices.
Better Off Guilty takes a motley cast of characters and weaves a compelling narrative around them, especially in terms of their family issues which threaten to unravel their lives. Both struggle with intergenerational trauma and their actions are often the result of past events. It puts a relatable flavor into this larger-than-life story. It’s also refreshing that the novel doesn’t shy away from unreliable and sometimes unlikeable characters.
However, there are some parts of this novel that confuse me. At times, there isn’t enough information given at the right times to make it clear what is going on, especially closer to the beginning. The language isn’t always clear, and some sentences can read somewhat awkwardly, but all in all, these issues don’t stand in the way of my enjoyment of the novel—especially once that killer ending makes itself known.
The portrayal of flawed, complex, but still sympathetic characters is brilliant in Better Off Guilty. As a debut, this proves to be a promising beginning.
Publisher: WordCrafts Press
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Print Length: 223 pages
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