Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill is a story that's been written before, but it is still a worthy entry in Hard Case Crime's growing list of original titles. Hill's novel tells the story of aging screenwriter Jack Stone, who tries to jump start his ailing career by selling off all his belongings and taking off for England to write a screenplay. Jack finds himself at Sheepheaven Farm, run by Robbie and Maggie Barlow. After Jack gets one look at Maggie he is infatuated and decides to stick around.
The setup should sound familiar. It's The Postman Always Rings Twice set in England. Hill's story, however, is a little more subtle. Jack and Maggie do not plot to do away with her husband. Jack, who goes from infatuation to obsession in a matter of days, comes up with that idea by himself.
Robbie's Wife will not please fans of quick and dirty crime fiction. The first two-thirds of the novel are devoted to Jack's travels and his efforts to write a screenplay as he becomes more and more fixated on Maggie. The slow pace would be difficult to bear if Hill, a poet, were not such a gifted writer. Hill takes his time, but the result is a rich setting and a set of fully fleshed out characters.
Hill's skill shows in the story as well. One page in the reader knows what is going to happen, but Hill still manages to surprise the reader when the climactic moment of violence arrives. The denouement also contains an unexpected turn, although the ending itself is the only one possible.
Despite the sense of déjà vu any avid fan of crime fiction will experience, Robbie's Wife is still worth reading. The path it treads may be well worn, but there is still enjoyment to be found in seeing the familiar from a fresh perspective.
(FYI: I finally figured out how to do an image link, so feel free to click on the picture above.)
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