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Two wives, one husband

In Too Deep by Samantha Hayes Arrow 416pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 350 baht

For multi-millennia, marriage has been about possession. Hands of he/she belong to me. To be sure, in most societies the husband got the best of it as the wife's belongings became his. Why else wed? Well-to-do widows, with both her and her late spouse's goods in her hands, were the prize catch.

Love was reserved for his mistress and her lover. Love entered arranged marriages later, if at all. In time, there was a pendulum swing favouring wives. Wives divorced their husbands on grounds of infidelity and were awarded alimony. The reverse happened as well, albeit to a lesser extent.

Having a mistress is one thing, bigamy quite another. In bigamy, there are two nuptials, with neither wife aware of the other. He uses different names, raises the families separately. Wives aren't above doing the same. A crime in parts of the world, a common practice in other parts.

In In Too Deep, British author Samantha Hayes focuses on a fictitious situation of this sort in the UK. Like her other novels, it's a psychological thriller. Living in London, Rick and Gina have two teenage children. The union appears to be a happy one.

Rick isn't in the money, but is a good provider. Gina is accustomed to his week-long business trips. To her consternation, he fails to return from one. Susan and Phil have also been wed for about the same length, the parents of one. Better off financially, they have a hotel in the Cotswolds and he disappeared.

Circumstances bring Gina and her daughter to that hotel, Susan's son falling for the girl. The women are chatty about the similarity of their plight, it becoming plain that far from coincidence, Rick and Phil are one and the same. The best part of the story is that his behaviour differed somewhat with each woman.

His philandering not withstanding, Gina and Susan want him for their own -- sharing him is out of the question. The story ends on that note. Needless to say, the romance between the half-brother, half-sister is quashed.

Novelists writing about bigamy tend to play up the sex angle. Hayes eschews this approach, dwelling on the emotional impact on the unsuspecting wives. She asks the question: how trustworthy is your mate?

 

Order To Kill by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills Simon and Schuster 374pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 595 baht

Be warned

The Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago, yet it's still hot and heavy in novels. Both the US and Russia continue to blame each other for their own shortcomings. Which is not to say that they aren't competing superpowers. But they do have faults of their own creation.

Their respective authors disagree. Patriotically, their homelands are never at fault. They have it that the other side is trying to bring about their collapse, economically or through threat of war. Joining forces to combat a clear and present danger to both -- militant terrorism -- is put off due to mutual suspicion.

Under these circumstances, there's bound to be similarities (not plagiarism) in plots, not least by Western scriveners. The approaches to the genre are finite. The Russian president, seldom Putin by name, is the culprit, the protagonists a literary US or UK superhero.

Not to be outdone, the Kremlin has a superhero of their own. In the penultimate chapter, there's a battle royal to determine the future of mankind.

Order To Kill by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills offers more of the same. The CIA's Mitch Rapp and Russia's Grisha Azarov are pretty evenly matched.

For one thing, they shoot first and ask questions later. (Azarov kills more women.) Pakistan's intelligence boss wants to be head of state by moving around the nation's nuclear arsenal to intimidate the moderate president. Isis is determined to hijack those trucks for its own purposes.

President Krupin, via Azarov, wants to use them to blow up Saudi Arabia's oilfields to bankrupt America by jacking up the price from the other oil kingdoms. Can Mitch Rapp prevent these machinations? In the process he takes on his counterpart. Lots of shoot-outs ensue as bodies pile up.

The best chapter is of Mitch treating volunteers with extreme prejudice. The twist has Azarov turning on his own president. Assassins like himself are acceptable, but mass murders like Krupin are a menace. An odd moral, yet the 21st is turning out to be an odd century.

Flynn/Mills make the point that Isis are the most sophisticated terrorists around. "Suicide" isn't in their vocabulary. They hit and run and know weapons. Foreigners have joined and their organisation is spreading. Be warned.

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