The tagline for the podcast All Killa No Filla is ‘we do this podcast so that we don’t write to them in prison.’ Reading this novel, you kind of wish the protagonist had followed the same path and saved herself money, time and sanity.
Samantha is a bored, troubled teacher living in England when she becomes obsessed with Dennis Danson, a Death Row inmate subject to the sort of investigative scrutiny we’ve come to expect in a post-Serial/Making a Murderer age. Convicted of a brutal murder at the age of eighteen and suspected of more, Dennis is the subject of a documentary and feverish online speculation; speculation that draws Samantha in and leads her to write to him. After meeting, she gives up her life at home and agrees to marry him- just before he wins his freedom after someone else is convicted of the crime.
What follows is an awkward relationship, in which two people who don’t really know each other and have different expectations of the world, try and work something out- not terribly successfully. Dennis has to adapt to modern life and Samantha has to adapt to being a wife to someone who doesn’t especially seem to want her around, in a country she doesn’t know at all. Add in a flirty old friend, a creepy old house and some brutal online comments and you have a recipe for paranoia- just how innocent is Dennis? And is their relationship all a sham? How do you make a marriage work when you’ve spent most of it with a plastic wall between you?
It’s a gripping novel, if one with a few plot holes and an unlikable (bordering on maddening) protagonist- at times Samantha borders on pathetic and hysterical, which I found irritating and her big secret, often alluded to, was a bit of a damp squib. However, it is a page-turner in the way that many modern thrillers are and I found myself tearing through it to see just how it all ended.