Review: The Ex by Alafair Burke

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80%
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Compelling

An enticing read that keeps you engaged and thinking long after the final page is turned.

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Alafair Burke’s crime novels are always compelling thanks to the unique perspective that she brings. As a former prosecutor and current law professor, the detail included in her novels makes the storylines feel like they could have been pulled straight from the court. Burke’s latest novel, The Ex, is as engaging a read as I have come to expect from the writer, demanding a full read through in just one sitting.

The Ex tells the story of Olivia Randall, an excellent defence attorney who gets a call from her ex-boyfriend’s daughter, asking her to defend him in a multiple homicide case where he is the main suspect. The story centres around the idea that everyone has that one ex, the person that they either should never have broken up with, or in this case, should never have hurt. For Olivia, Jack is ‘the ex’, and against her better judgement she agrees to represent him. What follows is a gripping crime drama which keeps you questioning at every turn, even as the reader, like Olivia, feels determined to believe Jack’s innocence.

What makes Burke’s novels so captivating is how accessible they are. While they are peppered with legal details and nuggets about the relationship between the police, defence lawyers, and prosecutors, the plot is never bogged down in these particulars. Instead, they provide a sprinkling of facts which enhance the narrative, as you are caught up in the wider questions of what happened and why. As the novel progresses, you are caught up in the unrelenting pacing, which urges you to continue reading in order to discover whether Jack is guilty, and whether Olivia successfully defends him.

Burke always creates enthralling characters, and one of the successes of The Ex is that Olivia is a compelling, yet hardly likeable character. With unflinching honesty, Olivia conveys her past infidelity to the reader, and you know from the start that this is not a woman we are supposed to like. And yet, even as you dislike her actions and past behaviour, her competency and belief in Jack encourages you to feel a grudging respect for her. In The Ex, we see complex people that are created by histories which Burke has taken care over, constructing the characters within a whole world, rather than just in the confines of the case that the novel focuses on.

The supporting cast is just as developed, with little touches  giving the remaining characters life. Details about their pasts combine with their emotional connections, making you feel that this is a world with more stories to tell.

Additionally, the ending of the novel came as a complete surprise, which rarely happens in crime novels nowadays, thanks to formulaic plots taking the forefront in recent years. The Ex genuinely left me questioning the convictions I held throughout the rest of the plot. It is safe to say that Burke’s latest novel is well worth picking up, whether you are familiar to her work, or are a newcomer.

The Ex is written by Alafair Burke and was published by Harper in 2016.

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Studying for my PhD focusing on Eighteenth Century Pirate Literature. Writer 2011-2013, Culture Editor 2013-2014, Editor 2014-2015, Culture Exec 2015-2016, Writer 2016-2017. Longest serving Edgeling ever is a title I intend to hold forever.

1 Comment

  1. avatar

    Just read this on my holidays and though I agree with many of your points, I can’t help feel the novel was a bit poorly executed character-wise. The twist at the end felt extremely rushed and perhaps unnecessary, detracting from Olivia’s arc of learning not to be blinded by her guilt over Jack? Anyway, still a good holiday read 😊

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