Maureen Lindley (maureenlindley.com)
Titan Books (titanbooks.com)
Betty Stash is a woman for whom bad luck is the only luck. Her younger sister Gloria, on the other hand, is a Beloved, a person for whom everything falls just right and who, as the name suggests, is loved by everyone. When their mother dies, Betty finds herself disinherited, their grand old house, Pipits, bequeathed to Gloria and her husband, Henry. Consumed with jealousy, Betty begins to plot her revenge in order to get back what is rightfully hers. As scheme after scheme fails, Betty’s life begins to crumble around her and she begins to wonder if it’s possible for the Beloveds to ever experience suffering.
There is something old-fashioned about the narrator of Maureen Lindley’s latest novel, the more-than-a-little-despicable Elizabeth Stash. Her voice and narrative style make the novel feel like a much older piece of work – something written by du Maurier or even Highsmith – rather than a modern-day slice of psychological crime fiction. When Betty mentions cars or mobile phones we find that we have to forcibly remind ourselves just where and when we are.
Betty is the perfect creation: her life-long battle with her more popular sister has twisted her outlook on life beyond belief and, while her repeated rants about how Gloria stole her boyfriend/friend/house/etc. could become repetitive and boring, Lindley manages to infuse Betty with a certain charm that puts us, the reader, on her side, so that we feel her outrage, and understand the steps she feels compelled to take. Not afraid to say what’s on her mind, Betty is the honest, outspoken person that we all want to be, but which politeness more often than not forbids.
The Beloveds can hardly be classed as a psychological thriller, since very little happens: from the outset, we watch as Betty’s already-fragile mental state begins to deteriorate as slight after imagined slight is levelled at her. Again, we feel some measure of empathy for her: we’ve all been pushed aside for the more popular sibling, friend, co-worker, so we all understand the thought processes that drive Betty ever onwards, and it comes as no great shock when she almost stumbles upon her first great scheme for revenge. From this point onwards, the book’s tension is broken up by what can only be described as an ever-more-farcical comedy of errors, which leaves some room to justify the fact that we’re on Betty’s side, without ever devolving into the realms of disbelief. Despite the slow-moving nature of the story, readers will find themselves gripped from the opening chapter regardless.
It is difficult to come to grips with the characters who surround Betty, since all we see of them we see through Betty’s eyes. Are the offhand remarks and insulting tones meant to deliberately wound the central character, or are they down to Betty’s own perception? It becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses that Betty’s key trait is selfishness, and we begin to take everything she tells us with a pinch of salt: perhaps Henry’s desire for Betty to move out is as simple as him wishing to spend some time alone with his pregnant wife before the birth of their child.
An examination of jealousy and its impact on family dynamics, The Beloveds is a beautifully-written novel that should appeal to fans of Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith or Liz Nugent. Intense and often blackly comic, it should also hold appeal for fans of classic films like Arsenic and Old Lace or The Ladykillers. Betty Stash is an anti-heroine the likes of whom we’ve never met before and her desire for happiness at any cost is one that we can understand, even if we ourselves wouldn’t go to the same extremes. An original voice in psychological crime, Maureen Lindley knows what it takes to keep the reader glued to the page producing, in The Beloveds, one of the best, most fun, crime novels of 2018.