With two successful series and a few collections of novellas, some may view Cathy Ace’s decision to release a stand-alone psychological suspense novel as a strange – and potentially risky – move, but not too many pages into The Wrong Boy skeptics will realize this is a novel she was destined to write. While it does skew a bit darker than her more traditional – bordering on cozy – offerings, there is nothing gratuitous in The Wrong Boy that should off-put Cathy Ace’s existing fans.
The Wrong Boy is very much the story of a place – Rhosddraig. The sanctity of this locale is shattered when the remains of a body are found in one of the most remote settings around the hamlet. Just days away from retirement, DI Evan Glover immediately knows this case is far more complex than it first appears and that he has no business getting involved. Despite his best efforts, Evan can’t help but occasionally inquire about how the investigation is proceeding. Eventually he learns that the prime suspect is Aled, a boy who works at The Dragon’s Head, the village pub, which is owned by long-time resident Myfanwy “Nan” Jones. Nan runs the establishment with the help of her daughter, Helen, and granddaughter, Sadie.
The plot of The Wrong Boy takes many twists before any type of resolution becomes possible. Just when readers feel they have figured out a part of the puzzle, a new development alters the framework and other possibilities present themselves. Structurally complex, Cathy Ace navigates readers through the six-month timespan of the novel skillfully while maintaining the suspense generated by the multiple tangled webs amongst the central players.
If ever there were any doubt about the importance of “voice” within a novel, The Wrong Boy would be a perfect case study to verify it. Cathy Ace wields five distinctive points of view to tell this tale. In addition to the three generations of Jones women and Evan Glover’s sections, there are also narrative bits from Evan’s wife, Betty, a local psychiatrist. Because the chapters recount the actions on different days, within each are various sections from multiple narrators. Cathy Ace demarcates every switch by listing the characters name at the beginning of each new section, but it is a testament to how well-developed each of these people are that readers would be able to determine the point of view even without such clear and obvious notation. Young Sadie’s voice sounds nothing like that of her grumpy grandmother; while Betty’s more analytical assessments could never be confused with the unsure – almost timid – narration of Helen Jones. Each of these voices is unique and vital to the overall success of The Wrong Boy.
The ambiance of Rhosddraig is another important component within this novel. The Welsh coastline and inhabitants, while foreign to many readers, will immediately feel comfortable and familiar. Because it is a culture with such a long history, the superstitions and beliefs of its people sway the reactions and options of even modern generations. Cathy Ace uses this to her advantage and those hearing these myths for the first time will easily understand their power over residents as a means of explaining the challenges of everyday life.
Ultimately, Cathy Ace keeps readers guessing far longer than many authors manage. The final reveal is both shocking and inevitable, simultaneously. Even the most innocuous comments, made in passing, are deeply rooted in the psyche of these characters. Often psychological suspense authors come up with incredibly complex motives for their character’s actions, but this is an author who understands that even the most average of thoughts can have devastating effect when the conditions are right. The Wrong Boy is a first-class narrative journey and readers should seek it out immediately.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.