The Woman on the Ledge is a story where, for the first half of the book, you know the narrator is lying--she tells you so--but you don't know why. It's a book that I found gripping until about the 60% mark at which point, having figured out what was going on, I enjoyed but found less than riveting.
The novel begins with a jolt. At the annual employee Christmas party, our narrator, Tate Kinsella, escapes from her irritating co-workers by heading up to the roof to have a smoke. (Our so she says.) There she encounters Helen, a woman seemingly set on suicide. Tate, by telling Hellen how much her own life sucks, convinces Helen not to jump and the two women leave the party and exchange numbers.
Less than twenty-four hours later, Tate finds herself in the back of a police car, accused of a murder in which a woman has fallen from that same roof, and which Tate vehemently denies having done. And yet, from the moment she tells the police her story, things don't add up. She contradicts herself even more when she tells her lawyer what happened. There's lots of evidence that points to Tate and the police--and, to a certain extent, the reader--are convinced of her guilt.
The story then jumps to Maddy, the wife of Tate's boss. Maddy has many things she's worried about, the greatest of which is the erratic behavior of her 15 year old daughter Emily. As the book progresses, we hear Tate's voice, then Maddy's, then Tate's. We wonder who the hell Helen is and why Tate is lying to everyone. It's confusing, interesting, and gripping.
It turns out that the truth is--shocker!--complex, twisty, and dark. One character preys on young girls and there are passages in this book that turned my stomach. This is very much a story about power, gender, abuse, and revenge and, for the most part, it's a compelling one.
That said, the novel didn't completely work for me. When I finished it, I still had questions. Maddy's behavior didn't make sense to me and, even worse, the rationales she gives for several of her actions were ethically iffy. Emily makes choices that I found hard to believe. And though Tate's background gives the reader great sympathy for her, I never really warmed to her nor, in the last third of the book, truly understood her.
The Woman on the Ledge is an exciting read that offers an exhilarating ascent followed by a more subdued descent. Yet, despite its shifts in momentum and the lingering questions it leaves behind, the novel's gripping premise and unexpected twists had a firm hold on my attention until the very end. It's not the best mystery I've read recently but it is one those who like psychological thrillers with morally ambivalent leads will enjoy.
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