This book by Kaira Rouda gives us one of the most unlikeable male leads I’ve come across in a while. Untrustworthy and unlikeable narrators aren’t a new thing… think Girl on the Train and so forth, however I think the creepiest thing about our lead character Paul is that he lies to us. Out of laziness or habit I think, rather than any real fear of what we’ll think of him.
by Kaira Rouda
Published by HQ Fiction Australia
on August 21st 2017
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he's the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That's why he's planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.
But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really? How much do they trust each other? Is Paul the person he seems to be? And what are his secret plans for their weekend at the cottage?
It wasn’t until I was part-way through the book I realised Paul reminded me of our narrator, Joe in Caroline Kepnes’ (also creepy) You. Although, despite his sociopathic ways, Joe was actually quite likeable: smart and funny.
Paul however is just revolting and – in some ways he makes no attempt to hide that from the get-go. In fact, I was (electronically) highlighting abominable phrases he used when talking about himself, his wife Mia and others and there were far too many to use. In fact, far too many for me to even choose a ‘top five’. So here is a couple of the earliest ones.
I like the way I feel when I stand at the end of the dock. The backdrop complements me like a movie set: oh look, there’s handsome, wealthy city-dweller Paul Strom enjoying a carefree day of leisure at his lakefront community. Very presidential. p 23
I’m pretty adept at covering my emotions….
Me, I don’t care, not as long as I’m making the big money. And I have. It has been a great ride. Even Mia, when we first met, may have considered herself above me. She was a copywriter on the creative team and I was just a client services guy. Now she knows what’s what. It didn’t take long for me to teach her how the world works. p 26
We already know from the backcover blurb the day isn’t going to go as planned and things go downhill shortly after Paul and Mia leave on their ‘best day ever’.
Because I’m a natural cynic I was thinking we were going to switch viewpoints and hear from Mia and find she was equally conniving and abhorrent. Or perhaps even more so. I mean there HAD to be a reason she’d stayed with him.
And we do hear more from Mia – though through her conversations with Paul. This is all Paul’s show (at least until the very end). And I had to stop myself pondering the ‘is he sociopathic vs psychopathic’ thing and decided I just needed to remember he wasn’t a nice person. Full stop.
I think part of what reminded me of Kepnes’ very-excellent book You, was that this book was (essentially) told in second person. It wasn’t hugely noticeable as Paul wasn’t really talking to we readers non-stop. It felt like a first person narrative but every so often he’d throw in a question and I’d realise he was talking to us. He blithely comments a couple of times on how he doesn’t want us to judge him harshly or think badly of him, but it’s pretty obvious (and becomes more-so) that he doesn’t care less.
He chatters away to us throughout the day with anecdotes here and there thrown in – the fact he’s unsure why formerly close friends now ignore them, he mentions the death of his parents, a woman at work he was rumoured to be seeing, and so forth. They’re flags I guess. Obvious ones, but less obvious is the question of whether Paul doesn’t understand or know the answers, or whether he just chooses not to tell us. Then.
There’s a strong sense of malice permeating Paul’s narrative and his thoughts are seriously creepy. (And yes, I know I’m overusing the word creepy. But he seems more that, than dangerous.)
You don’t discuss family dirty laundry, not at all. You smile and quietly accept what comes your way. Don’t make waves, not until you’re the one in control. Then you get your revenge. p 99
Readers will kinda know where this book is heading, but it is most certainly not predictable and I think Rouda gives us enough clues to know that everything will not be going Paul’s way, despite his planning.
I’d not heard of Rouda before and have since discovered she’s written a number of books in both romance and contemporary fiction and am now keen to read more of her work. For me this book started as a ‘4’ – as I wasn’t entirely sure what was coming, but its cleverness is evidenced in retrospect, nudging it up to a 4.5 star book for me.
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda will be published in Australia by Harlequin and available from 21 August 2017.
I received an electronic copy of this book via the publisher for review purposes.