A good old-fashioned mystery novel, one with a simple premise, a setup, and a twist at the end is fun in so many ways. I’m not just talking about the plot progression; but about the little details the author leaves in the story for you to pick up as you go along, the kind where you wonder why the story moves this way, only to gasp and still have an ‘aha, so that’s what they were planning’ moment in the end. Jeff Abbott’s newest novel, An Ambush of Widows, is just that – while also diving into the complexities and challenges of sudden widowhood.
The story revolves around two new widows; Kirsten North and Flora Zhang. Kirsten, a freelance researcher with a head for investigation, is devastated by her husband’s murder. Flora, a mother who works with upscale charities and organizations, is far more confused about her husband’s death – feelings of sadness mix with feelings of relief, of finally being able to fully be herself.
The two widows collide when Kirsten receives a mysterious call informing her that her husband, Henry – a man who works with cybersecurity – was killed in Austin. Kirsten flies to Austin to find out more and meets Flora, wife of the now-late Adam Zhang, a wealthy investor with a company dedicated to providing venture capital to new businesses.
An Ambush of Widows develops in an interesting manner; the author explores Kirsten’s and Flora’s histories in different ways. We see Kirsten meet Henry when she was just a teenager living with a foster family, and she falls in love with Henry because of his calmness and rationality, particularly during a crisis. Henry provides a sense of safety and stability that she never finds with family, and he eventually becomes (along with Kirsten’s foster brother, Zach) her family.
Meanwhile, Flora falls in love with Adam, who tries to care for his wife and child but is ultimately married to his career. She resigns her time as a business journalist, and becomes a full-time mother, and spends her spare time as a philanthropist. Her husband’s loss is difficult to process, especially when she learns more details about her husband after he’s passed, things that he hid from her.
What I really enjoyed about this was how direct the initial premise was, how upfront the story was, and how the author managed to introduce an unexpected twist despite this. The story is simple; two men are killed at a warehouse in Austin, and no one can figure out the connection between them, or the reason why they were killed.
Suspicions abound, from people suspecting Flora for killing them both – either in an act of revenge or for Adam’s money, to the homeless man who first reported the bodies at the scene. Flora being targeted felt like a tired cliché, mainly because the many times women kill their husbands is done as an act of self-defense, to escape domestic abuse. It’s a difficult area to maneuver, particularly because for many women, there isn’t much recourse left, especially when they’re at the end of their rope.
Flora and Adam’s relationship was never that drastic, but it wasn’t a healthy one, either. I don’t just mean cheating on his wife (which he was also guilty of). I mean not being open with what happened at work, or with his business. Flora uncovers more about Adam’s work-life after his death than she knew when he was alive, and it stung in more ways than one. Trust is an issue that Kirsten deals with, too. When she receives the mysterious call that her husband has died in Austin, she’s confused – Henry told her that he would be in New York. What felt like a lifelong, stable relationship is now slowly being torn apart – all while one half can never return, making things more complicated.
What was even more enjoyable to see was Flora and Kirsten’s relationship. The two women go from distrusting each other and attempting to play the cops off each other’s side, to forming a bond based on trust and mutual trauma. There’s nothing like an intensely traumatic situation to bring people together, after all. The sweet part was how well they worked together – and how powerful they were, despite their initial misgivings and their limited resources.
An Ambush of Widows made me realize a number of things; that there is power and dignity in standing with others, that falling for tropes and cliche’s (like ‘who benefits the most’) can be a trap, that the term ‘ambush of widows’ is cruel, but in this case, completely true, and that the sisterhood is a real, resourceful, and powerful thing.
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