Can you ever truly know the one you love?
Fran Hall and her husband Nathan live in a farmhouse on the edge of the Fens with their two children. One February night, when Fran is woken by her baby, she finds the bed empty beside her and Nathan gone. Searching the house for him she makes a devastating discovery.
As Fran finds herself under intense police scrutiny, she and her two small children become more isolated as she starts to doubt whether or not she really knew Nathan. Was he really the loving husband that Fran had trusted him to be?
As police suspicion grows the questions for Fran begin to mount. Is there something that she is hiding from them – something that she has kept hidden from everyone, including her husband?
This is an odd mixture of a book. At first, I thought it might be a novel about coercive, abusive control by a husband of a wife – a kind of Archers/Helen and Rob Titchener story. But as the book progressed it wasn’t really that which was at the heart of it. Quite why Fran married Nathan is never really all that clear – she’d been having a relationship with Nick, a man who clearly adored her, but Nick was always looking for the main chance and one day he went too far for Fran to contemplate staying in their relationship.
Then she met Nathan, who seemed to be more responsible, certainly not remotely dangerous and then three months later they were getting married. Fran has married Nathan partly out of guilt, we are led to believe, but that’s one of the things in the book that doesn’t quite stack up. They have no obvious relationship and she seems pretty devoid of personality for most of the book.
When Nathan packs up in London and moves them to the dark grey Norfolk Fens, Fran is left remote and isolated, friendless and without transport. Then one night she wakes up and finds that Nathan is no longer beside her. As she starts to look for him, she begins to uncover secrets that she had no idea about and wonders whether she knew her husband at all?
As the police become involved and Fran falls under their scrutiny, the isolation of the countryside matches the isolation that Fran feels as she is endlessly questioned by a sexist policeman with tunnel vision. She is assigned a family liaison officer, but even she is side-lined by her deeply unpleasant and misogynist colleague, and as a result of her own family problems she is almost never there when Fran needs her and proves pretty useless at doing her job.
In some ways this is a far-fetched story; in others, you might rightly argue that similar things have happened here in the UK and this book is not a million miles away from those stories. Where the book falls down is in its somewhat choppy narrative style and the fact that Fran herself has no really strong likeable characteristics to make you really want her to succeed in her quest to find what really happened in her husband’s life.
For me, it just did not hang together in a way that was either compelling or convincing. The atmosphere is there, the writing is fine, the characters well enough drawn; it just doesn’t sing when it needs to.
The Loving Husband Published in paperback by Sphere on 1st September 2016. Thanks to the publisher for an advance copy which has in no way influenced my review.