When I agreed to read and possibly review Mrs. John Doe by bestselling author Tom Savage, I did it based solely on the publisher’s description. I didn’t realize that I had read and loved another novel by Tom Savage, A Penny for the Hangman (link to that review at the end of this one). A Penny for the Hangman had me marveling at Mr. Savage’s ability to twist a thriller into chilling knots and hairpin turns that made me bite my nails to the quick. He’s done it again with Mrs. John Doe, a contemporary spy thriller. I literally could not put it down. If you’re looking for an exciting thriller to take your mind off of all the holiday stuff we get inundated with this time of year, look no further.
“She was standing on the widow’s walk when the call came. It was an appropriate place to be, all things considered, but Nora Baron didn’t usually think in terms of irony. Only later would she see the awful humor in it.”
Nora Baron teaches acting at a Long Island university and has a life she loves, a family she loves, and a husband she loves. It just doesn’t get much better than this. But that all changes in an instant, with just one phone call from Bill Howard, her husband’s business partner. Her husband, Jeff, who is in England on business, has died in a car crash. In shock, Nora flies to England to identify his body at a London hospital morgue.
“’…I’ve only just learned of it, myself. It happened yesterday evening.’ [Bill Howard said]
‘You’ve only just learned of it?’ Nora was aware that she was still enunciating everything carefully. She didn’t sound like herself; she sounded like the character in the play she was performing. She wondered if this was a symptom of shock.
‘Yes, that’s the odd thing about it. It seems he didn’t have anything on him, any identifying cards or papers. Nothing in his wallet but money, and pictures of you and your daughter. The police didn’t know who he was until they traced the car to us…’
…’What are you saying, Bill? Do they have reason to believe it was anything other than an accident?’
Bill Howard gasped; that’s how it sounded anyway, and his voice trembled with emotion. ‘Oh, Nora, I don’t really know anything at this point…’”
After she identifies Jeff’s body is when things begin to get really weird. A Middle Eastern man accosts her as she’s walking in the park after leaving the morgue, and tries to steal her purse containing Jeff’s personal belongings. Why would someone want that stuff?
“Be careful, Pal.
It was the second time in an hour that a strange man had instructed her to be careful [using the nickname only her husband knew]. In the case of Craig Elder, that final warning hadn’t been the tipoff, not by a long shot. She’d begun to have her suspicions of him as far back as the park, when he appeared so conveniently to spring into action [to stop the thief]. He’d told the boy, Gary, and the security guard what to do, and they’d automatically obeyed him. When the thief escaped, he’d spoken into his cell phone – but no police had arrived. Someone else, somewhere else had been alerted…Still, all this evidence hadn’t decided it for her. It was something he’d said outside, on the way here just now. Be careful with that purse. That had been the dead giveaway.
What is it? She wondered. What on earth do I have in my purse?”
Now, let’s backtrack for a moment. Nora knows her husband is a spy and they’ve made plans in advance for what she should do if she ever gets a phone call like the one she got about his death. Does the attempted theft mean his cover has been blown? It’s one thing to do advance planning and something else to follow up on that plan, especially when she’s unsure if she’s following the plan they originally laid out or if the unthinkable has actually happened to Jeff. Still, Nora is a really good actress and she decides she must play the role assigned to her while she tries to figure out if her husband is actually dead, which looks to be the case, or whether something more elaborate and sinister is playing out.
When Nora gets back to her hotel, a very odd message telling her to trust no one is waiting for her. Off she goes to Paris in accordance with the message’s instructions, staying keenly alert for anything and anyone around her that could be suspicious. Her stomach is filled with dread that the man on the slab was really her husband and she’s being lured into a trap. Bill is supposed to be Jeff’s English counterpart but she’s not sure she can even trust Bill at this point – her instincts are on high alert and she can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong but she can’t pinpoint what. As an actress, she’s good at seeing other people’s acts but she’s having a hard time penetrating the surface to find the truth.
Oh, and in Paris a dead body turns Nora into a fugitive. Now she’s got to find out the truth about what happened to her husband while avoiding being prosecuted for a crime she didn’t commit. Could it possibly get any worse? Talk about being out of your depth!
Nora is a small, innocent fish who lands in hungry shark-infested waters while thinking she’s just taking a brief swim in a well-planned pool…okay, bad analogy, but you get the point. She and Jeff think they have covered every eventuality if something should go wrong on one of his spy missions – Huge Fail – they so underestimated the forces aligned against him. As with A Penny for the Hangman, Tom Savage’s characters are the strength in driving his plot forward. Nora is instantly a hugely sympathetic character and, as the narrator, we discover what’s going on as she does – and go down those tunnels with no cheese right along with her as she blindly tries to stay alive long enough to find out WTH is actually going on.
Tom Savage has written another chilling yet highly compelling thriller in Mrs. John Doe. It got my adrenaline pumping big time (my nails needed trimming anyway – mission accomplished) and I read long into the night so I wouldn’t leave our reluctant heroine hanging out to dry. I know, I know – I’m silly that way – can’t leave the heroine out there all by herself, as if I as a reader could do anything to stop the bad guys. LOL Mrs. John Doe has hairpin turns in it so sharp that you meet yourself coming around the curve. Oh, and do remember to breathe occasionally because I found myself holding my breath at time.
I think Mrs. John Doe is a great choice to read while curled up by the fire on a cold afternoon or evening. It will definitely take your mind off of all the holiday chaos or anything else going on in the real world. And it’s a bargain! Yep, I’m definitely recommending this one!
Can’t wait to read it? Mrs. John Doe is only available as an e-book from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can have it immediately. At only $2.99, it’s a real bargain!
I’d love to get your comments on Mrs. John Doe, Tom Savage and/or his other work, and/or this review. Click here to read our review of A Penny for the Hangman.