Accidents Happen: A Novel by Louise Millar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was sent to me as a galley by Atria Books, through Galley Alley, and it's the second in a row that I've read containing the theme of "sad woman who has been through trying times is befriended by and falls in love with a 'too good to be true' guy who turns out to be too good to be true". This might even be a trope at this point, or at least a trendy theme in psychological thrillers. All I can say is that it is a delicate thing to write this kind of story so that the reader believes that the heroine is vulnerable but not overly credulous.
The story takes place in present-day Oxford, following the tortured daily existence of Kate, a 30s-ish woman with an eight-year-old son, who lost her husband in the recent past. Kate sees her life as a series of unlikely tragedies, feeling she's had more than her share of loss and accident. She's become obsessed with statistics and safety measures almost to the point of agoraphobia. Her husband's parents and her sister-in-law are naturally concerned, but their high-handed ways of demonstrating this concern are a huge source of friction. Kate meets a visiting statistics lecturer one day by chance...or is it? He seems literally to have written the book on the statistics of safety, and when Kate screws up her courage to talk to him they start a tentative friendship which immediately changes her outlook on life for the better.
Louise Millar skillfully sets her scenes in a detailed way that draws you in to the moment. The characters speak naturally and we spend just enough time in their heads to know what they're thinking without drowning in internal monologues. I found myself fully a quarter of the way through before I took a break.
**************More obvious spoilers*************
I subtracted one star from a perfect five for a couple of reasons:
1. The "sad woman needs a man to feel better and have a happy life" trope. I'm not saying this doesn't happen, but I prefer stories where the sad woman meets somebody who helps her find her happiness without needing to be the ultimate source of that happiness, if that makes sense.
2. Kate, our protagonist, is massively credulous to the point of stupidity. I would buy her being snowed by our Bad Guy if she were a 20-something college girl full of blind naïveté, but she's a 30-something woman with a child and an amazing menu of adventurous life experiences. I just don't believe her being so gullible, especially considering her paranoid obsession with security and safety. Bad Guy asks her to do some pretty sketchy things in the name of "bringing her out of her shell". By the second or third instance...no, after the first one I would have been very skeptical about this guy, and after a particularly creepy scene involving being stranded in a rural village with a gang of potential gang-bangers I would have punched this guy's lights out and called it quits.
The payoff is decent by the end, and the pacing is good. I always enjoy stories that take me to places I'd like to visit, in this case Oxford, England and environs. It's a nice couple of hours' reading.
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