A Double Life illustrates the curse of the second novel.

Writers and literary critics sometimes say that second novels are cursed. They rarely live up even to the limited expectations created by an author’s first novel. While I’ve sometimes found that to be misleading, I have to say that was the case with American author Flynn Berry‘s second effort, A Double Life. While billed as a thriller, this story was far more puzzling than suspenseful. Until close to the end of the book, I really wondered why on earth Berry’s protagonist was acting the way she was. The story only made sense once I reached the closing pages. But I felt exhausted rather than satisfied by her resolution.

“The first lord accused of murder since the eighteenth century”

She calls herself Claire, but that’s not her birth name. When she was young, twenty-six years earlier, her father had murdered the au pair and attacked her mother as well. Normally, this might have passed with little notice. But her father was titled — an earl, at that — and the press went wild. (Just in case you’re wondering, an earl is a relatively big deal; in the UK, titled nobility are ranked, in order, from dukes and marquesses at the top to earls, viscounts, and barons in the lower reaches of the pecking order.) And “He was the first lord accused of murder since the eighteenth century.”

A Double Life by Flynn Berry (2018) 270 pages @@@ (3 out of 5)

He had fled, apparently with the help of his aristocratic friends. As an adult, to escape the notoriety and the hounding by the media, “Claire” had moved out of London to Edinburgh. Now, a general practitioner working for the National Health Service, she’s back in the capital. There, she is able to track several of her father’s old friends in hopes of learning where he had fled to. And, unaccountably, Claire is willing to go to extreme lengths to learn the truth. That’s where this story becomes hard to fathom.

The curse of the second novel

Berry tells her tale through flashbacks to the time of the murder and contemporary scenes following Claire as she attempts to locate her father. The author is enough of a wordsmith that the story plunges along more or less seamlessly. But it’s just not engaging enough to escape the curse of the second novel.

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