Mad River Road.
Darleen R. Golke is a high-school teacher and librarian in Winnipeg.
The 18th entry in Fielding’s stable of thrillers features three dysfunctional women whose lives intersect dramatically by the novel’s climax. The catalyst, ex-con Brad Fisher, wastes no time exacting revenge on those he blames for his imprisonment. A charming psychopath, he ensnares attractive but insecure Jamie, whose challenges include the recent death of a high-achieving mother, a domineering ultra-successful sister, a divorce, a dead-end job, and discovering her latest lover is a married man. Brad has no difficulty persuading Jamie to ditch her job and embark on a holiday in her baby blue Thunderbird driving from Florida to the Dayton, Ohio, area ostensibly to visit his five-year-old son.
Jamie gradually discovers the reality of her new lover differs significantly from her romanticized version; she faces abuse, sexual brutality, and complicity in murder as the journey progresses. “His traveling companion, his accomplice, his victim,” Jamie is too terrified and ambivalent to flee from the obvious maniac who tracks his former wife to her new home on Dayton’s Mad River Road, a neighbourhood that “had become something of a haven for women in a state of flux.”
On Mad River Road two single mothers with young boys, Lily, a widow and aspiring writer, and Emma, a compulsive liar and shoplifter fleeing a bad marriage, inevitably meet and form connections. Both embellish their questionable pasts to explain their present, but as their lives intertwine, the reader gradually recognizes incongruities in their stories and anticipates the obvious conflicts ahead. Ultimately, with Jamie’s reluctant assistance, Brad captures both women. Only when he stabs Emma does Jamie break free from the terror that paralyzes her and act to resolve the standoff.
Fielding opens the novel with murder and alerts the reader from the outset that bad things will happen. As Brad spins his web ensnaring Jamie, the action moves from Florida along the I-75 north to Dayton and the focus shifts among the three women. Each woman initially appears as the innocent victim of bad choices, but gradually stands revealed as flawed. Fielding develops her female characters with Jamie finally “accepting responsibility” for her actions, Lily confessing her abusive marriage, and Emma revealing her vices. However, the villain is so obviously deranged and one-dimensional that the climax fails to shock. Nevertheless, Fielding builds the suspense well and skillfully keeps the action moving with a few surprises and enough twists to maintain the reader’s interest. Recommended.