Book Review: Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre

Winner of the Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the Year, Black Widow narrates a tale of successful and yet ruthless woman-surgeon who ends up loving and marrying the most unlikely guy. But her whirlwind romance meets a tragic end when her husband dies in an accident and she is charged with his murder.

This is just the beginning of the roller-coaster ride that the book takes the reader through with unexpected plot twists and red herrings paving the way.

An accomplished surgeon, Diana Jager is a vocal female rights advocate and exposes sexism in medicine on a regular basis through her blog. But it all comes crashing down when her identity kept anonymous till now is leaked online by one of the IT guys as a payback to her spiteful comments on them. In a backlash, not only is her identity compromised but she ends up losing her job and relocates to Inverness where she meets the kind and gentle Peter – an IT guy.

Opposites attract and after a brief affair, Dr. Jager marries Peter but her perfect marriage so beautifully picturized in tabloids meets a tragic end when Peter dies in a car accident. Sympathetic, everyone sees this as the ultimate tragedy to a fairy tale marriage and Dr. Jager plays the role. But Peter’s sister is not convinced with Diana’s act and hires Jack Parlabane, a washed-out journalist to dive deeper and to find out if her brother is actually a victim of an accident or a nasty plot chalked by his wife.

As Jack Parlabane starts digging, the dominos start falling. A façade of a fairytale marriage starts to fall and a very different picture of Diana starts to emerge – Blade Bitch, Vengeful, Obsessive, Controlling. Peter is not so kind either, but does he deserved to be killed for it? What comes out is not just a portrait of an unhappy marriage but a tale of deception and lies. Charged with her husband’s murder, Diana Jager stands on trial proclaiming her innocence. The billion-dollar question that haunts the reader throughout the book is: Is she the Black Widow, the aggressor who killed her husband in cold blood or is she the ultimate victim, the innocent bystander? Is she the manipulative psychopath like Amy in Gone Girl or is she the victim of her spouse’s lies like Nick?

Episode after episode, the reader keeps on struggling to find a clear answer. Seeming like another murder mystery, Black Widow turns the table around by throwing doubts about everything the reader seems certain of – Diana’s complicity in Peter’s death. Opening with the scene in a courtroom, the reader hears from Diana, “My trial has barely begun, and no testimony heard, but already I know that in the eyes of this court, I am an abomination.” She is not just a murderess, she is the bitch who had murdered her husband, “From their perspective they had just told me about the likely death of my husband, but from mine, I hadn’t learned anything new…I was forced to play the widow, a role I never envisaged for myself. The hardest part was the awkwardness of having to endure people coming up to say how sorry they were for my loss. I didn’t feel bereaved.”

The narrative moves backward and forward, and the story is narrated by multiple narrators, one being Diana herself. Shifting between the unreliable narrators – Diana and Jack – the reader keeps guessing between the guilty and the innocent verdict and that’s where the biggest achievement of the book lies. Even though everything is stacked against Diana, the biggest being the murder charge, one cannot help but feel sympathy for her. Interspersed in between is the narrative of Jack Parlabane who lays bare the deceit practiced by both Diana and Peter to further their aims. As Jack immerses deeper into the world of Diana and Peter, he finds a web of intrigue and darkness built carefully by both Diana and Peter. As the cracks in their perfect marriage come to the surface, the reader is left baffled.

Compulsive, dark and gripping, Black Widow is a treat for crime lovers. With plot twists more perplexing than Gone Girl, the author not only manages to turn the reader’s head till the very end but also tackles serious issues like sexism, cyberbullying, gender inequality which makes it all the more enjoyable.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads