When it comes to Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge it’s been hard finding books set in, or about Monaco. Back in 2016 I lucked out with Mark Braude’s Making Monte Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle. Recently I lucked out again when, thanks to the blog A Book Lover’s Adventures I learned James Patterson’s 2012 thriller/mystery Guilty Wives is set, partially anyway in the small Mediterranean principality. I’ve never had a desire to read anything by the prolific and best selling novelist but figuring I had nothing to lose I decided to give Guilty Wives a shot. After only few pages I knew I’d made the right choice. Much to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed the popular page-turner, finding it clever and full of twists.
Leaving their husbands behind in Berne, Switzerland four expat housewives hop a private jet to Monaco in search of the ultimate girls weekend. With all expenses paid (courtesy of one of them, a former winter olympic athlete now trophy wife to a tech billionaire), the two Americans, a Brit and a South African check into their palatial presidential suite and hit the ground running. Each one gifted with an envelope stuffed with tens of thousands of Euros in gambling money (prompting one of them to wonder aloud if she should use it to buy a new car or private island) they gleefully descend upon Monte Carlo’s most opulent casino, heading straight to the VIP/high rollers area, where they take turns at the roulette wheel amidst a colorful cast of international jet-setters, kleptocrats and fat cats. (I learned guests must present passports upon entering casinos since gambling is forbidden to citizens of Monaco.) There’s also a trip to a private swimming pool catering to an exclusive clientele, allowing them to lounge in bikinis and soak up equal parts sun and male attention, welcomed by all four of them since their respective marriages are imploding. Capping everything off is an evening of drinking, dancing and shenanigans at one of the principality’s high-end nightclubs. Lubricated with alcohol in the hot, crowded, and pulsing club the women succumb to the charms of a small group of wheel-heeled gentlemen, including a George Clooney-esque A-list actor who immediately hits it off with Abbie, a diplomat’s wife. Open to further possibilities their small ensemble retires to a stately yacht anchored in the nearby harbor later that evening .
But then things go horribly wrong. In the hours before sunrise a horrific high-profile double murder has occurred and the four, despite their innocence are considered suspects and are charged with murder. Hounded mercilessly by French prosecutors to confess and wrongly convicted based on planted DNA evidence the four housewives are sentenced to lengthy terms in France’s most notorious women’s prison. But Abbie refuses to give up. Pressured to confess by a corrupt warden and tortured almost nightly by sadistic female guards she vows to uncover who set them up and why.
It’s just January but I have a feeling Guilty Wives will probably go down as one of 2021’s pleasant surprises. Ghost written for Patterson or not, whoever put this thing together did a fine job. No loose ends were left untied and the action was exciting up to the novel’s end. This Orange Is the New Black meets Count of Monte Cristo is a fun ride.