Mine: A Novel of Obsession
Mine is a hybrid between a legal thriller and a romance novel set in modern day England. Francine Day, a hard-working young divorce lawyer from Manchester at Burgess Court in the Middle Temple in London’s Inns of Court—a candidate for the prestigious Queen’s Counsel List—is given a case to argue in court that “will change” her life. She is to act for Martin Joy, a fortysomething wealthy hedge fund manager whose wife, Donna, has commenced divorce proceedings against him.
Early on, a chance meeting in Selfridge’s brings them together casually—when this develops into drinks and dinner they end up back at Martin’s loft in Spitalfields. Barrister and client enjoy a delightful night of little sleep and much sex, and Francine falls hopelessly in love with the handsome Martin. Against her better judgment, they embark on a torrid affair.
A dinner date turns involves an introduction to Martin’s business partner Alex Cole and his wife, Sophie, who had brought the two colleagues together. The Coles are anxious that the partnership might be impacted by the divorce, and that this would chase investors away.
After a private investigator gives Francine a photo of a happy husband and wife taken the day before and tells her that they had dinner and went back to their house together, the barrister decides to investigate for herself. She goes to Donna’s gallery, sees her meet Martin and stalks them in a restaurant.
Waking from a drunken night spent at her neighbor, Pete’s, she recollects that she followed them back to the house and spied from a bar across the road while the lights were turned out and Martin eventually emerged around midnight. Pete tells her that she arrived around two in the morning but she has no recollection of what might have happened between midnight and two.
When Donna does not turn up at a crucial meeting in the proceedings, Martin lies to Francine about the last time he saw his wife, and Francine begins to question her lover’s intent. She starts to entertain Corrosive thoughts of foul play start when she learns that Donna did not turn up at a birthday dinner party and no one has seen nor heard from her for days.
In spite of her reservations, Francine accepts Martin’s invitation to go for a drive and they go to a derelict retirement home property on the coast that he bought as a fixer-upper. Martin tries to extricate himself from his lies, but their tryst is interrupted by a call for Martin to come back to London to be questioned by the police about Donna’s disappearance. As they try to get back, the island is cut off by bad weather so they hole up in a pub. Francine is concerned that she has been seen with her client.
As the police search for Donna and the tabloid reporting intensify, Francine, too, comes under suspicion and is questioned by the police. She admits to having gone to Donna’s gallery but not that she followed her and Martin back to the house. Pete, the neighbor, suspects that she is a lot more involved than she has let on, and blackmails her in to having sex with him, or else he will tell the police that she came back at two am with a cut on her leg the last night Donna was sighted.
Francine’s chances at silk—indeed, her career—start to unravel when she botches a child custody case.
Phil, the private investigator tells Francine that Donna was seen kissing Alex Cole, Martin’s partner. Francine jumps on this as good news for her lover—perhaps it was Alex who killed Donna. But Phil claims this makes Martin even a more plausible suspect in a crime of passion case. Francine goes to the police with this news, but they have already questioned Alex who had an alibi the night Donna was last seen—dinner with his wife, Sophie.
The plot is masterfully constructed and raises a lot of questions: Was Donna murdered or did she just go away on a holiday, say to France? With at least three of the characters—Martin, the husband, Francine, the husband’s lover and Alex, the partner—all having motives to get rid of the wife, the rest of the book is a tour de force in unraveling where Donna is and the whodunit if she was murdered along the way.
Ms. Butler concocts a suspenseful plot and her characters—especially, Francine, the narrator—are plausible, round and well conceived, all with attendant human weaknesses. The book is a good read and the backdrop of English divorce law is well researched.
The ending, though, is a bit of a stretch, but the reader needs to find out for him/herself.