A domestic whodunit

An Estaminet, in Cambligneuil. By Gyrth Russell An Estaminet, in Cambligneuil. By Gyrth Russell

Fran Hall has managed to persuade herself that her spouse really is The Loving Husband she longs for. But as Christobel Kent’s thriller unfolds, it is clear to everyone else that Nathan is manipulative, controlling and sinister. Plenty of potential enemies lurk in the bleak British marshland to which he has moved Fran and their two small children. By the end of the first chapter, Nathan lies dead in a ditch.

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The Loving Husbandby Christobel Kent

Sphere. 416p, $30

Two small-town cops, lacking imagination, figure that Fran did him in with her kitchen knife. She seems clueless or evasive about Nathan’s routines. The weapon is right there, stuck in a pot of bulbs. All they need do is exude concern until she shares enough information to incriminate herself.

Fran, still in shock, leaves out some very personal details, and these omissions will come back to haunt her. She does not have the presence of mind to call a lawyer or even to insist on more support from the village’s family liaison officer. She figures it will be up to her to track down the killer.

Rashly, she tries to do that by interviewing shady characters on her own, without telling anyone where she is headed. That ratchets up the tension.

Meanwhile, Fran still must see to the needs of her nursing baby and a 4-year-old terrified by sightings of “the bad man." Could they be in danger as well?

Fran’s fierce protectiveness for her children is appealing, but the author does not give her much depth beyond that. We learn little about Fran’s previous life at a magazine in London or why she seems bent on relationships with men she barely knows.

Two inanimate "characters" are better sketched. The Halls’ drafty old farmhouse is replete with peril, from a rat-filled attic to unlocked doors. The surrounding district is Dickensian in its harshness; every field, ditch and tree line holds menace.

The author speeds up the action in the final chapters as if she has lost track of the clues and miscues she has planted. The novel ends in a patched-together way that leaves inconvenient details behind.

Fans of domestic thrillers will likely forgive this. Others will figure that real life offers more than enough tension of its own.

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