Margaret Tracy was, in actuality, a pseudonym used by brothers Andrew and Laurence Klavan for their first novel, Mrs. White, which won the 1984 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. Long out of print, it’s something of a rarity in mystery/thriller circles. Luckily Open Road Media has digitized it, making it available once again. (I received an eARC from the publishers in exchange for an open and honest review.) Andrew Klavan has gone on to write a number of mysteries and psychological thrillers, winning another Edgar and two Anthony awards, and seeing two novels (True Crime and Don’t Say a Word) turned into films of the same name. Laurence has done a bit of work as a playwright, and has penned several YA dystopian novels as well.
When making dinner for her husband, Mrs. Porter realizes she’s out of lemons and runs to the store. While the Porters moved to quiet Connecticut for more safety and stability, Mrs. Porter yearns for life in New York City, the hustle and flash of the Big Apple. She never expects that the tranquility of a small Connecticut town may hide a rotting core—nor does she expect a madman to stab her to death when she returns to her cooking. The gory scene that’s left behind would sicken even the most hardened policeman. And as the second of two similarly brutal killings, signs indicate this is the work of a a serial killer who will strike again.
Mrs. White lives a quiet and comfortable life, but hers is nothing like Mrs. Porter’s—she was born in a small Connecticut town, and as a lower-class local isn’t afforded the same privileges as the wealthy New Yorkers inhabiting the local bedroom communities. She is a stay-at-home housewife taking care of her young daughter, scraping by from her husband’s paycheck as a carpenter, making due thanks to the reasonable rent charged by her genial old landlord who spends his time fishing (or dreaming of fishing). She lives in quiet isolation from the murders until her landlord mentions them during one of his weekly visits. Wanting a reassuring voice, she calls her husband, only to find that he hasn’t been working late after all—he’s leaving his worksite hours earlier than he claims. Is he having an affair, she wonders? But her husband’s dark secret is worse beyond her imagination…
The setup is perfect for a psychological thriller, though it does take a while to get fully up to speed. The reader knows about Mr. White’s background long before Mrs. White begins to suspect, and we’re treated to several heartwarming family moments that become quite morbid when you realize his true nature. Mrs. White continues on blissfully unaware, perhaps for a bit too long—then again, this is a man she’s known and loved for twenty years, her high-school sweetheart. I can’t fault her for not suspecting her husband of anything worse than an affair, because she never had reason to do so. But eventually Mrs. White does uncover the fact that her husband is a serial killer who’s butchering upper-class women, and those fun family moments become even more uncomfortable for her than they are for the reader.
Thematically, there’s a clear use of social class as a contrast, something that’s rammed home through Mr. White’s dislike of the upper-class neo-suburbanites whose white flight has taken them out of the Big Apple and into Connecticut. It’s reinforced by small, subtler details: the first murder victim is making chicken cacciatore, while Mrs. White is home making stew; the victims drive Camaros and Mercedes, while Mrs. White treks to the store in a Pinto with engine trouble. Mrs. White is presented as dowdy, a meek and subdued housewife, a high-school dropout with more heart than common sense. But beyond all that, she’ll have to find the inner strength that rests within her in order to save her family and free herself.
Mrs. White uses a brilliant idea—what if someone found out they were married to a serial killer—and runs with it. It isn’t as twist-laden or gripping as the best thrillers, but the strong characters and unique setup drew me in; its uncomplicated writing and decent pacing helps make it a fast and enjoyable read. Mr. White’s dark and sinister secret makes for an entertaining read. Much like Mrs. White, the novel is quiet and subdued—or at least it begins that way, building steam and ending in a frenetic rush. Now that the novel isn’t so hard to find any more, it’s easy to recommend it to readers who enjoy a thriller with strong characterization that doesn’t skimp on the thrills, either.
Title: Mrs. White
Author: Margaret Tracy (Andrew and Laurence Klavan)
Release Date: 16 June 2015
What I Read: ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via Netgalley)
ISBN/ASIN: 0440158931 / B00WRYEQNE
First published: 1983