Today it is my absolute pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for The Marriage Pact, the new psychological thriller from author Michelle Richmond which is released today. Happy publication day Michelle.
When I first saw the blurb to this book I must admit to being thoroughly intrigued but nothing could quite prepare me for what I was about to read. I have a brilliant extract to share with you in just a moment, as well as my thoughts on the book, but first up, here is what drew me to the book in the first place
The Official Book Blurb
‘It ranks with The Stepford Wives and Gone Girl as a terrifying look at what it really means to say “I do”‘ Joseph Finder, bestselling author of The Switch
It’s the perfect wedding gift.
Newlyweds Jake and Alice are offered membership of a club which promises members will never divorce.
Signing The Pact seems the ideal start to their marriage.
Until one of them breaks the rules.
Because The Pact is for life.
And its members will go to any lengths to ensure nobody leaves . . .
The Marriage Pact
I come to on a Cessna, bumping through the air. My head is throbbing, and there is blood on my shirt. I have no idea how much time has passed. I look at my hands, expecting to see restraints, but there are none. Just an ordinary seatbelt looped around my waist. Who strapped me in? I don’t even remember boarding the plane.
Through the open door of the cockpit, I see the back of the pilot’s head. It’s just the two of us. There is snow in the mountains, wind buffeting the plane. The pilot seems completely focused on his controls, shoulders tense.
I reach up and touch my head. The blood has dried, leaving a sticky mess. My stomach rumbles. The last thing I ate was the French toast. How long ago was that? On the seat beside me, I find water and a sandwich wrapped in wax paper. I open the bottle and drink.
I unwrap my sandwich—ham and Swiss—and take a bite. Shit. My jaw hurts too much to chew. Someone must have punched me in the face after I hit the ground.
“Are we going home?” I ask the pilot.
“Depends on what you call home. We’re headed to Half Moon Bay.”
“They didn’t tell you anything about me?”
“First name, destination, that’s about it. I’m just a taxi driver, Jake.”
“But you’re a member, right?”
“Sure,” he says, his tone unreadable. “Fidelity to the Spouse, Loyalty to The Pact. Till death do us part.” He turns back just long enough to give me a look that warns me not to ask any more questions.
We hit an air pocket so hard my sandwich goes flying. An urgent beeping erupts. The pilot curses and frantically pushes buttons. He shouts something to air traffic control. We’re descending fast, and I’m clutching the armrests, thinking of Alice, going over our final conversation, wishing I’d said so many things.
Then, suddenly, the plane levels out, we gain altitude, and all appears to be well. I gather the pieces of my sandwich from the floor, wrap the whole mess back up in the wax paper, and set it on the seat beside me.
“Sorry for the turbulence,” the pilot says.
“Not your fault. Good save.”
Over sunny Sacramento, he finally relaxes, and we talk about the Golden State Warriors and their surprising run this season.
“What day is it?” I ask.
I’m relieved to see the familiar coastline out my window, grateful for the sight of the little Half Moon Bay Airport. The landing is smooth. Once we touch down, the pilot turns and says, “Don’t make it a habit, right?”
“Don’t plan to.”
I grab my bag and step outside. Without killing the engines, the pilot closes the door, swings the plane around, and takes off again.
I walk into the airport café, order hot chocolate, and text Alice. It’s two p.m. on a weekday, so she’s probably embroiled in a thousand meetings. I don’t want to bother her, but I really need to see her.
A text reply arrives. Where are you?
Back in HMB.
Will leave in 5.
It’s more than twenty miles from Alice’s office to Half Moon Bay. She texts about traffic downtown, so I order food, almost the whole left side of the menu. The café is empty. The perky waitress in the perfectly pressed uniform hovers. When I pay the check, she says, “Have a good day, Friend.”
I go outside and sit on a bench to wait. It’s cold, the fog coming down in waves. By the time Alice’s old Jaguar pulls up, I’m frozen. I stand up, and as I’m checking to make sure I have everything, Alice walks over to the bench. She’s wearing a serious suit, but she has changed out of heels into sneakers for the drive. Her black hair is damp in the fog. Her lips are dark red, and I wonder if she did this for me. I hope so.
She rises on her tiptoes to kiss me. Only then do I realize how desperately I’ve missed her. Then she steps back and looks me up and down.
“At least you’re in one piece.” She reaches up and touches my jaw gently. “What happened?”
I wrap my arms around her.
“So why were you summoned?”
There’s so much I want to tell her, but I’m scared. The more she knows, the more dangerous it will be for her. Also, let’s face it, the truth is going to piss her off.
What I’d give to go back to the beginning—before the wedding, before Finnegan, before The Pact turned our lives upside down.
Now I don’t normally like to include personal quotes when I insert a book blurb as I’m not entirely convinced they add a lot. They just seem like name dropping. But this opening quite intrigued me as it likens the book to The Stepford Wives. Now I read The Stepford Wives what feels like a millenium or two ago, and in many ways I can absolutely see where this is coming from. The Marriage Pact is perhaps The Stepford Wives of the twenty first century, where compliance falls not just upon the wife but the husband too and the methods of control are more sinister and unnerving by far.
I don’t want to delve too far into the premise of this book as I think the blurb pretty much tells you all you need to know. Jake and Alice are all set to make a perfect new life together when Alice accidentally invites a client to their wedding. His gift to them is somewhat unusual and yet ultimately intriguing. Membership of a club which promises them an eternally happy marriage, one where people address each other as ‘Friend’, even though from the outset you get the feeling they are truly anything but. They agree to sign ‘the pact’ as a bit of fun, a sign of their commitment to each other, but neither can possibly know how far this will push them or what sacrifices they will have to make to adhere to the terms of their agreement.
I found this book to be equal parts compelling and unnerving. Told from the point of view of Jake we are privy to the early days of his marriage to Alice. Jake leads us through all the milestones – from how they met to his proposal to their wedding day. While we learn far more of Jake and his career and life before he met Alice, we still find out much about her too, including her life as part of a rock band. These sections are told as thought Jake is reminiscing and although important, and they really do inform the story but you won’t realise how until the end, they do change the tone of the reading a little. Both Jake and Alice are highly likeable characters, although due to the way it is written it is far easier to empathise with Jake who seems to be, at least on the surface, the more committed of the two. Alice is far more focused on her career, at least in the beginning, something which comes to the notice of their ‘Friends’, putting them in violation of their agreement and the rules of the pact.
The consequences and penalties for failure to follow the rules are ambiguous at best. But there are penalties. Misdemeanours carry one punishment, repeated infractions or crimes deemed ‘felonies’ mean a whole new level of penalty. Members of ‘the pact’ call is re-education. Rational people call it torture. Now it is in the ‘reeducation’ of Jake which lead to some of the most disturbing scenes in the whole book, and it was with a mixture of shock and disbelief that I found myself reading on. The chapters are predominantly short and perfectly judged, only a few run a little longer but there is still not an ounce of unnecessary narrative, making it easy to lose yourself in the story.
And lose myself I did, racing through all 400 pages in a little over five hours. Now matter how much the actions of the group sickened me at times, I couldn’t look away. I was intrigued by the mysterious messages Jake’s friend JoAnne had to pass to him, wanting to know quite what she was warning him against. I was fascinated by Orla, the Irish lawyer who had founded the group in the bid to create the ideal marriage, one bound in the general principals of British law (now that fact alone should have made Jake and Alice take note before signing …).
All of the characters on the periphery were a mixture of Stepford like compliance and sinister malevolance, making the skin crawl and keeping the fear factor and tension high. I love the twisted road this story took me down. Nothing was ever quite as it seemed and it wasn’t quite clear who, if anyone, could be trusted, including Jake and Alice. There are some scenes which were truly uncomfortable, but I don’t think any of the descriptions were particularly gratuitous. The meaning was clear. Stick to the rules of the pact and you are fine. Fall fowl of them … Yeah – not so much.
If you want a guide book on how not to pursue or achieve the perfect marriage then this is probably it. While some of the basic principals were sound, the lengths they were willing to go were less so. It is another good reminder to me why I don’t fancy marriage, perfect or otherwise, although fairness Jake and Alice do make a wonderful pairing. Whether they survive their ordeal or fall victim to the darker side of the pact you will need to read yourself to find out.
Chilling, dark and deliciously disturbing at times this is very much a recommended read for me. My thanks to Jenny Platt at Penguin Random House for the copy of the book for review and inviting me to be a part of the tour.
The Marriage Pact is released today and can be purchased from the following links.
About the Author
Michelle Richmond is the bestselling author of The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Hum: Stories, Golden Stage, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning The Girl in the Fall- Away Dress. She lives with her husband and son in San Francisco.
(Picture courtesy of Misty Richmond)
Make sure to check out some of the other blogs taking part in the tour.