I started The Exes’ Revenge expecting a bit of a thrillerish take on The First Wives Club, but soon realized we weren’t just looking at a cheating, womanizing jerk of an ex-husband. Instead, The Exes’ Revenge takes on the story of three women who’ve been involved with the same violently abusive man, who happens to be a police officer and therefore often protected from punishment by his colleagues.
The main character, Imogen, is the second wife. She’s experienced Philip’s temper firsthand one too many times, and is grateful when Philip falls in love with another woman and asks for a divorce. The problem is that Philip wants Imogen and their son Alistair to move out of their house by the end of the month or he’d sue for sole custody. In the middle of an argument, Imogen ends up locking Philip in her basement until he agrees to give her custody of their son and more time to move out of the house. Unfortunately, she forgets to remove his car from her driveway, and ends up attracting the suspicion of his new girlfriend Naomi (who has recently experienced his violent outbursts and mostly just wants his money before she leaves) and his ex-wife Ruby (who has experienced Philip’s controlling nature but never his violence, and feels a somewhat maternal protectiveness towards him). The three women end up somewhat uneasy allies, as Philip does his best to manipulate them to turn against each other and do what he wants.
The Exes’ Revenge is a dark and fast-paced thriller that made me cheer on the Imogen and the other women the entire time. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s an empowering story for women (I feel like that moniker sets up a LOT of expectations for a book), but it does feel satisfying to see the tables turned on an abuser. Jakeman does a great job of showing how, despite the physical and emotional abuse, the women still feel conflicted emotions about Philip and their respective relationships with him. In a lot of ways, the revenge in this book is even more satisfying than the revenge in The First Wives’ Club, because Jakeman paints such a clear picture of how much of a controlling asshole Philip is, and how he systematically gaslights these women and tears them down. Unlike the husbands in First Wives Club, who were just unlikeable jerks, the husband in this story is a full-on criminal, who appears untouchable by the law because of his job, and so it’s satisfying to see him get his just desserts.
I also like that the entire story isn’t just about revenge. In fact, Jakeman makes it clear that Imogen isn’t interested in revenge so much as in security for her son. While she does derive some satisfaction in switching the power dynamic on Philip, she’s also a victim of circumstance and sometimes seems more trapped in the sequences of events she has set in motion (e.g. keeping Philip locked up because of fear of retaliation against her and her son) than actually just being vindictive. There are also multiple times when Imogen and the other women try to let Philip go and move on, but then he responds by turning on them. So even though this is touted as a revenge story, in a way, it’s also a story about self-defence, and making the best of bad circumstances.
Finally, the last few pages of this novel are incredibly satisfying.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.