Hot Off the Press: A Review of An Ambush of Widows by Jeff Abbott
Happy July, BookNerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life. As always, my name is Hannah and I have a very special review for you today.
Today’s review is brought to you by Novel Suspects’ Insider’s Club! They are not paying me for my review, they just sent me the book for free. So a huge, massive thank you to Grand Central Publishing for sending me an advanced readers copy of Jeff Abbott’s latest book An Ambush of Widows which was just released yesterday, July 6th.
I have to say it, this book was just what I was looking for at this moment in time. We are in the dog days of summer now, it’s hot and that’s the only thing I can think about right now. I don’t want a book that’s going to make my brain work. The only thinking I am capable of is trying figure out who the killer in a novel is.
I must admit, I guessed wrong with this thriller. Abbott created a twisty-turny mystery that I failed to solve; how dare he!
Let’s get to that synopsis now, and I promise, I’ll try not to ruin this mystery. As always a spoiler alert is in order. You've been warned!
Jeff Abbott’s latest follows two women by the names of Flora Zhang and Kirsten North who live in vastly different worlds. Flora married a man by the name of Adam Zhang, who is the co-founder of one of Austin’s most successful venture capitalist firms, and the pair live the lavish lifestyle of the rich and somewhat famous. Kirsten on the other hand married Henry North, a cybersecurity expert who is having a bit of a rough patch, and the pair live a traditional middle-class lifestyle in New Orleans. There is no way these couples would ever meet in their day-to-day lives.
That is until Adam and Henry, two men with no connection whatsoever, are found murdered in a warehouse in Austin, Texas. Now Kirsten and Flora find themselves working together to solve this double homicide, but neither one knows if they can trust the other. And neither one is prepared for the secrets their husbands were keeping.
At first glance, this book seems to be pretty standard fare. The grieving widow manages to solve her husband’s murder. Been there, done that. But throw in the mafia, a hitman, corporate espionage, children committing murder and you get a book that keeps on giving.
I hope I didn’t give too much away just now, but those are some of this book’s highlights. Especially the hitman. He is actually a point of view character, which I was not expecting, and I found myself enjoying his chapters the most.
Sure, Flora and Kirsten are good characters. They are fleshed out fairly well, they aren't static, stock characters, they’re the ones who solve the mystery, they have great agency; they are all around good characters, but I’m a sucker for a morally gray villain.
The hitman, known as Mender, is only in the business to support his small but growing family. He knows that he can’t or shouldn’t be a hitman forever as his enemies will eventually find him and/or his family. Living a double life is certain to put a strain on any and all relationships he has. And he does question if being a hitman is really worth the rewards. But he never shows remorse despite the wavering certainty in his job. His victims are simply a means to an end; he has that family to care for after all.
In retrospect, Mender really isn’t anything special. This type of character has been seen many times before in various pieces of literature throughout the eras with many different names and faces. But the morally ambiguous, secretive killer is such a fascinating character to read about! You can’t tell me I’m wrong. Send me book recommendations that feature a morally ambiguous hitman!
As far as Flora and Kirsten go, I’ve already mentioned that they’re good characters. They make a good pair of foils, but, I do hate to say it, I don’t actually have much to say about them. They’re decent protagonists, with some interesting secrets, but they aren’t anything special either. The mystery is where it’s at in this book.
Speaking of the mystery, it starts out quite strong. Much like our titular widows, I too was very curious to solve this double homicide. What can I say, An Ambush of Widows has a good hook. I wanted to know how two men from two vastly different worlds ended up dead together.
Sadly, I found the novel to slow down come the middle of the book.
At some points there was a lot of information being thrown in my face. At other points it felt like the chapters dragged on with no clues, or end, in sight. A middle ground would have been deeply appreciated.
While the above issue was my least favorite part of the novel, the following I’m still on the fence about. There are about three or four chapters set in the past. These chapters focus on an event that occurred during Henry, Kristen, and her foster brother’s teenaged years. The subject matter of these chapters is something that adds character depth to these three, and is very important information the reader needs to know, but the time jump detracts from the larger story.
If an author is going to switch between time periods, it should be done more than a small handful of times. Again, the information is something very necessary, but I wish it was given in a different way.
All in all, this mystery is masterfully done. It has a good hook and twists that kept me reading. I believe Abbott could have done better though had he worked more on the pacing of the novel, but if you just want to read a good mystery, this is a good new release to pick up.
And with that, I must bid you all adieu. Until next week, stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask if you aren’t vaccinated, and read some good books for me.