Extract: My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry
My Husband’s Wife is the first psychological thriller by Jane Corry. Perfect for readers of Liane Moriarty and Clare Mackintosh, this is a twisty, gripping novel and an absolute must-read this summer.
Jane Corry recently spent three years working as the writer-in-residence at a high-security prison for men. The experience left her with fascinating insights into prison life and the criminal mind, and these have informed her writing.
When lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start. To leave the secrets of the past behind. But then she meets Joe. A convicted murderer who Lily is strangely drawn to. Who she will soon be willing to risk anything for. But is he really innocent? And who is she to judge?
Read on for an extract from My Husband’s Wife…
My Husband’s Wife
The prison is at the end of the District line, followed by a long bus ride. Its gentle woody-green on the Underground map makes me feel safe; not like the Central red, which is brash and shrieks of danger. Right now, my train is stopping at Upminster and I stiffen, searching the platform through rain-streaked windows, seeking familiar faces from my childhood.
But there are none. Only flocks of baggy-eyed commuters like wrinkled crows in raincoats, and a woman, shepherding a small boy in a smart red and grey uniform.
Once upon a time, I had a normal life not far from here. I can still see the house in my head: pebble-dash, 1950s build with primrose-yellow window frames that argued with its neighbour’s more orthodox cream. Still remember trotting down the high street, hand in hand with my mother on the way to the library. I recall with startling clarity my father telling me that soon I was going to have a new brother or sister. At last! Now I would be like all the others in class; the ones from exciting, noisy, bustling families. So different from our own quiet threesome.
For some reason, I am reminded of the whining little girl in navy-blue uniform from our block this morning, and her mother with those bee-stung lips, black mane and perfect white teeth. They’d been speaking in Italian. I’d been half tempted to stop and tell them we’d just been there on honeymoon.
Often, I wonder about other people’s lives. What kind of job does that beautiful woman do? A model perhaps? But today I can’t stop my thoughts from turning back to myself. To my own life. What would my life be like if I’d become that social worker instead of a lawyer? What if, just after moving to London, I hadn’t gone to that party with my new flatmate, something I’d normally always say no to? What if I hadn’t spilled my wine on the beige carpet? What if the kindly sandy-haired man (‘Hi, I’m Ed’) with the navy cravat and well-educated voice hadn’t helped me to mop it up, telling me that in his view the carpet was very dull anyway and needed ‘livening up’. What if I hadn’t been so drunk (out of nerves) that I told him about my brother’s death when he’d asked about my own family? What if this funny man who made me laugh, but listened at the same time, hadn’t proposed on the sec- ond date? What if his arty, privileged world (so clearly different from mine) hadn’t represented an escape from all the horrors of my past . . .
Are you telling me the truth about your brother? My mother’s voice cuts through the swathes of commuter crows and pulls me in an invisible towline away from London to Devon, where we moved two years after Daniel had arrived.
I wrap my grown-up coat around me and throw her voice out of the window, on to the tracks. I don’t have to listen to it now. I’m an adult. Married. I have a proper job with responsibilities. Responsibilities I should be paying attention to now, rather than going back in time. ‘You need to picture what the prosecution is thinking,’ the senior partner is always saying. ‘Get one stage ahead.’
Shuffling in an attempt to make room between two sets of sturdy, grey-trousered knees – one on either side of my seat – I open my bulging black briefcase. No easy task in a crammed carriage. Shielding the case summary with my hand (we’re not meant to read private documents in public), I scan it to refresh my memory.
Pro Bono case
Joe Thomas, 30, insurance salesman. Convicted in 1998 of murdering Sarah Evans, 26, fashion sales assistant and girlfriend of the accused, by pushing her into a scalding-hot bath. Heart failure combined with severe burns the cause of death. Neighbours testified to sounds of a violent argument. Bruises on the body consistent with being forcibly pushed.
It’s the water bit that freaks me out. Murder should be committed with something nasty like a sharp blade or a rock, or poison, like the Borgias. But a bath should be safe. Comforting. Like the woody-green District line. Like honeymoons.
The train jolts erratically and I’m thrown against the knees on my left and then those on my right. My papers scatter on the wet floor. Horrified, I gather them up, but it’s too late. The owner of the trousers on my right is handing back the case summary, but not before his eyes have taken in the neat typed writing.
My first murder trial, I want to say, if only to smooth the wary look in his eyes.
But instead I blush furiously and stuff the papers back into my bag, aware that if my boss was present I would be sacked on the spot.
All too soon, the train stops. It’s time to get out. Time to try and save a man whom I already loathe – a bath! – when all I want is to be back in Italy. To live our honeymoon again.
To get it right this time.
Whenever I’ve thought about a prison, I’ve always imagined something like Colditz. Not a long drive that reminds me of Ed’s parents’ rambling pile in Gloucestershire. I’ve only been there once, but that was enough. The atmosphere was freezing, and I’m not just talking about the absence of central heating.
‘Are you sure this is right?’ I ask the taxi driver.
He nods, and I can feel his grin even though I can’t see it from behind.
‘Everyone’s surprised when they see this place. Used to be a private home till Her Majesty’s Prison Service took over.’ Then his voice grows dark. ‘Pack of bleeding nutters in there now, and I don’t just mean the criminals inside.’
I sit forward. My initial worry about putting a taxi on expenses (the bus didn’t go far enough, as it turned out) has been dissipated by this rather intriguing information. Of course I knew that HMP Breakville has a high proportion of psychopaths and that it specializes in psychological counselling. But a bit of local knowledge might be useful.
‘Are you talking about the staff?’ I venture.
There’s a snort as we carry on up the drive, past a row of what appears to be council houses. ‘You can say that again. My brother-in-law used to be a prison officer here before he had his breakdown. Lived in one of those, he did.’
My driver jerks his head at the council houses. Then we round another corner. On the left rises one of the most beautiful houses I’ve seen, with lovely sash windows and a stunning golden-red ivy climbing up the outside. At a rough guess, I’d say it was Edwardian. It’s certainly a complete contrast to the crop of Portakabins on my right.
‘You check in there,’ says the taxi man, pointing at the house. I scrabble in my purse, feeling obliged to tip him if only for the extra information.
‘ Ta.’ His voice is pleased but his eyes are troubled. ‘Prison visiting, are you?’
I hesitate. Is that what he has me down as? One of those do-gooders who feel it’s their duty to befriend the wicked?
He shakes his head. ‘Take care. Those blokes . . . they’re in there for a reason, you know.’
Then he’s off. I watch the taxi go back down the drive, my last link to the outside world. It’s only when I start to walk towards the house that I realize I forgot to ask for a fares receipt. If I couldn’t get that right, what hope is there for Joe Thomas?
And, more importantly, does he deserve any?
‘Sugar? Sellotape? Crisps? Sharp implements?’ barks the man on the other side of the glass divide.
For a moment, I wonder if I’ve heard right. My mind is still reeling from the strange journey I’ve just taken. I’d gone towards the lovely house, relieved that prison wasn’t that terrifying after all. But when I got there, someone directed me back across the grounds, past the Portaka- bins and towards a high wall with curled-up barbed wire on top that I hadn’t noticed before. My heart thudding, I walked along it until I reached a small door.
Ring, instructed the sign on the wall.
My breath coming shorter, I did so. The door opened automatically and I found myself in a little room, not that different from the waiting area in a small domestic air- port. On one side was a glass partition, which is where I am right now.
‘Sugar, Sellotape, crisps, sharp implements?’ repeats the man. Then he looks at my briefcase. ‘It saves time if you get them out before you’re searched.’
‘I don’t have any . . . but why would it matter if I had the first three?’
His small beady eyes bore into mine. ‘They can use sugar to make hooch; Sellotape to gag you. And crisps to bribe them. It’s happened before, trust me. Satisfied?’
He certainly seems to be. I know his sort. Rather like my boss. The type who relish making you uncomfortable. He’s succeeded, but something inside me – a strength I didn’t know I had – makes me determined not to rise.
‘If, by “they”, you’re referring to your inmates, then I’m afraid they’re out of luck,’ I retort. ‘I don’t have anything on your list.’
He mutters something that sounds like ‘bleeding-heart defence lawyers’ before pressing a bell. Another door opens and a female officer comes out. ‘Arms up,’ she instructs.
Again I’m reminded of an airport, except this time nothing bleeps. For a minute I’m back in Rome where my silver bracelet – Ed’s wedding present to me – set off the alarm at security.
‘Open your case, please.’
I do as instructed. There’s a stack of documents, my make-up bag and a packet of Polos.
The woman seizes on the last two as if trophies. ‘Afraid we’ll have to confiscate these until you’re out. Your umbrella too.’
‘Possible weapon.’ She speaks crisply, but I detect a touch of kindness that was absent in the man behind the glass partition.
‘This way, please.’
She escorts me through another door and, to my surprise, I find myself in a rather pleasant courtyard garden. There are men in Robin-Hood-green jogging bottoms and matching tops, planting wallflowers. My mother is doing the same in Devon: she told me so on the phone last night. It strikes me that different people might be doing exactly the same thing all over the world, but that a united task doesn’t mean they have anything in common.
One of the men glances at the leather belt around the officer’s waist. There’s a bundle of keys attached and a silver whistle. How effective would that be, if these men attacked us?
We’ve crossed the square towards another building. My companion takes the keys from her pouch, selects one and opens up. We’re in another hall. Two more doors are in front. Double doors and also double gates, separated by an inch or so of space. She unlocks them and then locks them again after we’ve gone through. ‘Make sure you don’t trap your fingers.’
‘Do you ever wonder if you’ve done it properly?’ I ask.
She fixes me with a stare. ‘No.’
‘I’m the kind of person who has to go back and double-check our own front door,’ I say. Quite why I admit this, I don’t know. Maybe it’s to introduce a note of humour into this weird world I’ve found myself in.
‘You have to be on top of things here,’ she says reprovingly. ‘This way.’
The corridor stretches out before us. There are more doors on either side with signs next to them: ‘A Wing’, ‘B Wing’, ‘C Wing’.
A group of men is coming towards us in orange tracksuits.
One of them – bald with a shiny scalp – nods at the officer. ‘Morning, miss.’
Then he stares at me. They all do. I blush. Hotly. Deeply.
I wait until they’ve passed. ‘Are they allowed to wander around?’
‘Only when it’s freeflow.’
‘When the men are off the wing and on their way somewhere like gym or chapel or Education. It requires less supervision than a situation where officers escort each prisoner individually.’
I want to ask what kind of situation that might be. But instead, partly from nervousness, I find a different question coming out of my mouth.
‘Can they choose the colours they wear? Like that bright orange?’
‘It’s to show what wing they’re on. And don’t ask them questions like that or they’ll think you’re interested in them. Some of these men are dangerously smart. They’ll try to condition you if you’re not careful. Make friends with you to get you onside or make you less vigilant. The next thing, they’re getting information out of you without you realizing it, or making you do things you shouldn’t.’
That’s ridiculous! What kind of idiot would fall for something like that? We’ve stopped now. D Wing. Another set of double doors and gates. I step through as the officer closes both behind us. A wide gangway stretches out before us, with rooms on both sides. Three men are waiting, as if loitering on a street. They all stare. A fourth man is busy cleaning out a goldfish tank, his back to us. It strikes me as being incongruous – murderers looking after goldfish? – but before I can ask anything, I’m being taken into an office on the left.
Two young men are sitting at a desk. They don’t look very different from those in the corridor – short hair and inquisitive eyes – except they’re in uniform. I’m aware that my skirt band is cutting into my waist, and once again I wish I’d been more disciplined in Italy. Is comfort-eating normal on a honeymoon?
‘Legal for Mr Thomas,’ says my companion. She pronounces the ‘Mr’ with emphasis. It sounds sarcastic.
‘Sign here, please,’ says one of the officers. His eye travels from my briefcase to my chest and then back to my briefcase again. I notice that in front of us is a tabloid, sporting a scantily clad model. Then he glances at his watch. ‘You’re five minutes late.’
That’s not my fault, I want to say. Your security delayed me. But something tells me to hold my tongue. To save it for battles that matter.
‘Heard Thomas was making an appeal,’ says the other man. ‘Some people, they just don’t give up, do they?’
There’s a polite cough behind us. A tall, well-built, dark-haired man with a short neat beard is standing at the door of the office. He was one of those waiting in the corridor, I realize. But instead of staring, he is smiling thinly. His hand is extended. His handshake squeezes my knuckles. This is a practised salesman, I remind myself.
Yet he doesn’t look like an archetypal prisoner, or, at least, not the type I’d imagined. There are no obvious tattoos, unlike the prison officer beside me, who is sporting a red and blue dragon’s head on his arm. My new client is wearing an expensive-looking watch and polished brown brogues which stand out among the other men’s trainers and are at odds with his green prison uniform. I get the feeling that this is a man who is more used to a jacket and tie. Indeed, I can see now that there is a crisp white shirt collar peeping out from under the regulation sweatshirt. His hair is short but well cut, revealing a high forehead above a pair of dark eyebrows. His eyes suggest someone who is wary, hopeful and slightly nervous all at the same time. His voice, when it comes, is deep. Assured but with an accent that is neither rough nor polished. He could be a neighbour. Another solicitor. Or the manager of the local deli.
‘I’m Joe Thomas,’ he says, letting go of my hand. ‘Thank you for coming.’
‘Lily Macdonald,’ I reply. My boss had told me to use both names. (‘Although you need to keep a distance,’ he’d said, ‘you don’t want to appear superior. It’s a fine lawyer/ client balance.’)
Meanwhile, the look on Joe Thomas’s face is quietly admiring. I flush again, although less from fear than embarrassment this time. On the few occasions I’ve received any kind of attention, I’ve never known how to respond. Especially now, when it’s so clearly inappropriate. I can never rid myself of that constant taunting voice in my head from schooldays. Fat Lily. Big-boned. Broad. All things considered, I still can’t believe I have a wedding ring on my finger. Suddenly, I have a vision of Ed in bed on honeymoon in Italy. Warm sun streaming in through creamy-white shutters. My new husband opening his mouth, about to say something, and then turning away from me . . .
‘Follow me,’ says one of the officers tightly, jerking me back to the present.
Together Joe Thomas and I walk down the corridor. Past the stares. Past the man cleaning out the goldfish tank with a care that might seem touching anywhere else. And towards a room marked ‘Visits’. It’s small. The barred window looks out on to a concrete yard. Everything inside is grey: the table; the metal chairs on either side; the walls. There’s just one exception: a poster with a rainbow and the word HOPE printed under it in big purple capital letters.
‘I’ll be outside the door,’ says the officer. ‘OK with you?’ Each word is fringed with a distaste that appears to be directed towards both of us.
‘Prison officers aren’t very keen on defence solicitors,’ my boss had warned me. ‘They think you’re poaching their game. You know. Trying to get them off the hook when it’s taken blood, sweat and tears on the police and crown prosecution’s part to get them banged up in the first place.’
When he put it like that, I could see his point.
Joe Thomas now looks at me questioningly. I steel myself to look back. I might be tall, but he’s taller. ‘Visits are usually in sight of but not necessarily in hearing of a prison officer,’ my boss had added. ‘Inmates tend to reveal more if there isn’t an officer actually in the room. Prisons vary. Some don’t give you the choice.’
But this one had.
No, it’s not OK, I want to say. Please stay here with me.
‘Fine, thank you.’ My voice belongs to someone else. Someone braver. Someone more experienced.
The officer looks as though he’s going to shrug, although he doesn’t actually do so. ‘Knock on the door when you’ve finished.’
Then he leaves us together.