1959. California. A suburban housewife disappears and the only sign of an attack is a bloodstain on the kitchen floor and two terrified children. Joyce Haney's housecleaner and friend, Ruby, discovers the scene and immediately knows something is amiss, with the 1950s attitude toward women will she be able to convince the police to delve deeper?
Huge thank you to Manilla Press for sending me a proof copy of this! It was one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of 2021 so when it plopped through my letterbox I was over the moon!
Initially this is difficult to follow, there has been some kind of attack at Joyce's home that Ruby discovers but the multiple points of view gave varying impressions of how to interpret the scene. The approach to this in theory was excellent but the execution felt slightly off leaving me a bit confused. Gradually the story does establish itself and becomes increasingly engaging and the mystery surrounding Joyce's disappearance became so captivating that it was difficult to put the book down. Ruby's involvement was especially attractive to me as not only was her approach powerful for female representation but also for black female representation. The language used in the novel doesn't sit well with me though unfortunately, Ruby was insulted in multiple ways and degraded because of her skin colour, whilst it was a sign of the times alternative words could have been used in my opinion, especially from a white author.
The key to any mystery is keeping your audience on their toes, dropping hints and clues throughout the novel to make sure the reader can at least make their guesses. Whilst this book does give you hints toward the big reveal they are few and far between that made it difficult for the reader themselves to piece it together. I'd have liked to have seen a more concise narrative that clearly shows you there is a genuine mystery and not just following a step-by-step easy to solve crime which is what it felt like.
Considering Vesper advertises this as a female empowerment novel, showing the power we have and the importance of our freedom it didn't satisfy me that Ruby's endgame was still to be with Joseph, who was a bit of a tool. If a woman wants to be a perfect housewife and partner to her husband for genuine reasons, then so be it, there is no shame in wanting to be a good partner and setting life goals. For example, I want to get married, I want to have children but that doesn't lessen my ambitions, however, Ruby's depiction of this badass investigator alongside Mick and trying to discover the truth about her friend seemed to completely vanish toward the end. It dwindled back to that standard cookie-cutter image for women in the 1950s as soon as Joseph was envisioned as her only goal which isn't what we've been led to believe and hope for. Throughout the novel she was strong and stood up for herself and her dreams, that powerful image just dissipated in the final chapters.
I love anticipating a read, I loved opening this parcel and loved the powerful character of Ruby and Mick's outward resilience toward the 1950s attitudes. But, I didn't love this. I was disappointed that the story didn't flow as easily as it could have, Ruby's progression retreats by the end and it feels like she's back at square one. The reveal was unexpected and really saved this from being a lower rating, the final chapters (in terms of action and excitement) really made the rest of the novel worthwhile.