"It's Always the Husband" (St. Martin's Press), by Michele Campbell
Relationships — whether marriage or friendship — have the power to enrich lives or destroy them. Some relationships do both as Michelle Campbell shows in her riveting novel "It's Always the Husband."
Campbell, a former federal prosecutor who has written several novels under different names, expertly explores the line between love and hate and the effect of toxic relationships. While the mystery elements blanket the story, "It's Always the Husband" spins on the friendship of three very different women and the calm and chaos surrounding them.
Scholarship student Aubrey Miller, ambitious local girl Jenny Vega and wealthy New Yorker Kate Eastman meet on their first day at New Hampshire's Carlisle College. The three are suite-mates and are soon known as the Whipple Triplets after the dorm where they live. But the nickname isn't always a term of endearment. The emotionally fragile Aubrey struggles with her background, her grades and her inability to fit in. She hero-worships Kate, a spoiled rich girl with drug and anger issues. Only Jenny seems to rise above, though she is constantly being drawn into her roommates' drama. At the end of their first year, a tragedy occurs that binds them together and divides them. "It's Always the Husband" alternates between the women's college days and 22 years later, when each has a drastically different economic situation and place in society.
The novel opens with the murder of one of the women 22 years after their college days. Campbell keeps the murdered women's identity secret for nearly half the story — a device that works well to amp the tension. Although readers will probably guess which of the friends met an untimely end, the unveiling is still a surprise, amplified by the shocking motive.
Campbell keeps the tension high as she exposes her very flawed characters, each of whom is realistically explored. As most of the characters must realize, sometimes the only way to save yourself is to sever a toxic relationship, no matter how painful.