The Verdict
by Olivia Isaac-Henry

One More Chapter (Harper Collins)

AMBER LOVE 28-SEP-2019 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.

Publisher’s Summary:

A cheating wife. An estranged mother. But is she guilty of murder?
Please raise your right hand.
An affair at work has cost Julia Winter her job and her marriage. There’s no denying she has let her family down.

Please remain standing.
When a body is discovered on the North Downs, it hits local headlines. But for Julia, the news is doubly shocking because the body was buried just opposite the house she lived in over twenty years ago. And it is one of her former housemates.

Please resume your seat.
Up on the stand, Julia’s not the only person to have secrets that are unearthed during the trial. But the evidence against her is overwhelming.

And yet one question remains: is she the murderer, or the victim?

Jurors, you may be excused.

Readers, what is your verdict?

Review:

This was my first time reading Olivia Isaac-Henry’s work. She has also published Someone You Know by the same publisher. If you are looking for a lot of twists and surprising reveals, The Verdict is for you.

the verdict cover

Julia Winters is a main character you can root for. She makes the worst life choices, but she’s not unlikable. The rest of the cast features other women who are unique and also likable; plus one gay BFF who is a tertiary character in the London scenes; but, as for the rest of the male characters, there’s not a single one with redeeming qualities except Julia’s teenage son, Sam, who is visible often in her scenes, but he doesn’t have any active scenes himself.

Isaac-Henry threw me for a loop for the first several chapters because of the time-hopping from 1994 to 2017. Chapter one is in central London and told in the first person point of view. From there almost every chapter flip-flops ahead and then back. What didn’t seem to make sense was why half the book is first POV and the rest told in third person. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and the depth of characters, I still don’t understand the choice to continuously switching perspectives in this way. I’ve enjoyed plenty of books where it changes POV based on character starring in that scene, but this style is a first for me. After a while, I got used to it and mentally kept myself inside Julia’s headspace.

The story revolves around one specific murder mystery, but there are other characters who do end up dead before the end. All of the deaths that are mentioned could be suspicious. Readers don’t have to accept what the local police detectives rule. There’s enough there in what is said or isn’t said to have you questioning them.

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The title leads one to believe there’s a court case involved and we’re taken into it with ease by the midpoint. It’s not a story completely set inside a boring courtroom. The Guildford Crown Court is where Julia, Gideon, and Alan end up as co-defendants in the murder trial of their former housemate Brandon Wells.

This group of unlikely co-lodgers in a large suburban house answer to the landlady. She calls herself Genevieve D’Auncey, a former acting star; in reality she’s merely an eccentric batty woman named Jenny Pike. Genevieve refused to have any grasp of reality at all even when she was young. When her son Dominic disappeared in the Alps, her eccentricity pivoted into alcoholism and pill dependency. Her sister, the completely opposite salt-of-the-earth woman, Ruth Fletcher keeps an eye on her and the lodgers. Ruth doesn’t seem important as a figure until the third act in the climax of the courtroom scenes and the final chapter.

Another tertiary character who isn’t quite consistent is Pearl, Julia’s other best friend along with Andre. There are times when Pearl believes they should enjoy their young lives, sleeping with whomever they please, and drinking all weekend; but then she counters her own advice. This could be a matter of the timeline hopping where the characters have two decades to mature. It’s nothing that makes or breaks any of the story arcs.

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As for Julia’s husband — he’s last month’s putrefied garbage in a fitted suit. His infidelities don’t matter, only hers. It’s never called abuse nor domestic violence when he takes control of all the finances, buys himself multiple luxury vehicles, gets a house at their maximum budget which only Julia’s income pays, or his stalking. There’s so much stalking in The Verdict! At least three of the men do it, perhaps more, I lost count. It absolutely is abuse to prohibit a spouse from having any say in the marital finances. Forcing Julia to take a bus or train to work (okay, that’s not abuse in itself as millions do this adequately), while having his own luxury vehicles is definitely an abusive power dynamic. Her husband can con everyone into thinking he’s merely “taking care of Julia” because she’s been frail and has sketchy mental health with a suicide attempt in her history. Nonetheless, the author never says the word abuse when it most certainly was. It always come back to, “Did he ever punch you?” and as a Content Note, I’ll spell this part out:

Reveal
Julia’s husband does grip her arm tightly in one scene and frequently scares the hell out of her by forcing her to do as he says.

The courtroom drama brings up another tactic still used today: boys will be boys. Or in this case, it’s just male banter, nothing meant by it.

As previously stated, all the men in this book are trash. All of them expect Julia to do what they want even if that means forcing her to compromise her own morals. Sam is a rage-filled teenager, so he kind of gets a pass since all teens are generally awful unless they’re the protagonists.

I loved Julia Winters and Ruth Fletcher. Olivia Isaac-Henry delivers story arcs that twist and turn as well as Agatha Christie. There’s a constant sense of dread with monstrously bad mistakes made by the hero.

Content Notes:

  • abusive situations M/F multiple relationships
  • suicide attempt and aftermath (character isn’t allowed to go to the toilet alone)
  • stalking M/F

Rating: Five Stars

five star rating

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