When a 911 call is placed and then hung up before police are able to speak to the caller, Meadowlark, Kansas officer Diane Varga is sent to the address that the incoming phone number is registered to in order to investigate.
Upon arriving at the home of Ian and Maddie Wilson, Officer Varga discovers evidence of a physical struggle. The phone is destroyed and there’s blood in the house, consistent with an attack of some sort.
The question is who was attacked . . . and who was the attacker?
Telling the story through the perspective of multiple characters, but mainly Maddie and Ian, author Annie Ward skillfully takes readers backward in time, telling parts of their history—both before and after they met—and chronicling their relationship, which shows a slow but steady pattern of anger and violence. Or does it?
When they met in Europe, Maddie was immediately sweet on Ian, a former British soldier turned bodyguard, though he originally favored her BFF Joanna over her. Though they didn’t hook up immediately, the two eventually reconnected down the road after Maddie had a falling out with Joanna and began seeing each other. Years later, they ended up getting married and even had a son together. But Charlie, now a toddler, is too young to notice his father’s PTSD, which Ian suffers from after a life in the military and private security. Though the private sector has been good to his bank account, Ian has taken to self-medicating through alcohol, causing Maddie to worry about him.
Then, of course, there are the “accidents” and “falls” that Maddie has had from time, causing those around them to become suspicious. There’s fighting, arguing, and yelling, and really nothing surprising about the gruesome scene Officer Varga stumbled into at the story’s beginning. Yet, as readers have come to expect thanks to the likes of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, and A.J. Finn, nothing is ever quite what it seems . . . and figuring out what really happened won’t be easy.
By now, readers know narrators cannot be trusted. Therefore, it’s fair to assume most crack open the latest thrillers of psychological suspense with at least a smidgen of skepticism and doubt, and for good reason. Nobody should be fooled or caught off guard by the unreliable narrators ever again. And yet, in a time when everyone’s looking for the next Gone Girl, plenty are still willing, eager even, to get lost in the story, all the while knowing that the character they’re come to adore might not be the person they thought, and hoped, they were to begin with.
Keeping readers in the dark but dying for more isn’t an easy thing to do these days with the bar having been raised to impossible heights in recent years, yet Ward conquers that feat with ease, slowly winding her way through the story, helplessly sucking readers in and drawing them closer and closer before delivering a final, gasp-inducing twist that won’t soon be forgotten.
Armed with a strong prose, a devilishly seductive cast of characters, and a hidden truth that begs to be revealed, Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad is just the book that fans of Flynn and Hawkins have been waiting for.
Author: Annie Ward
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Park Row
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.