Title: Beautiful Bad
Author: Annie Ward
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Park Row Books
Maddie and Ian meet in southeastern Europe, fall in love, and move to suburbs in Kansas to raise their son, Charlie. After a mysterious camping accident, Maddie starts going to therapy, where she gradually reveals to her therapist what her life is really like. Told in three timelines, the events of Beautiful Bad lead up to the horrifying events that occur on “The Day of the Killing”…
Beautiful Bad is at its heart a psychological thriller, but it does have elements of military fiction and drama thrown into the mix. At times the book is set in different parts of the globe, giving the book an international feel that is uncommon in typical domestic suspense novels.
Annie Ward uses three plotlines across three different timelines to tell this story. One is set years before the main events of the book, when Maddie and Ian first meet. Maddie, who is living in Bulgaria, writing for Fodor’s travel guides, frequently visits her best friend, Joanna, in Macedonia, despite the political unrest in the region. She meets Ian at a bar, and they gradually fall in love. This is my least favourite storyline, which, unfortunately, makes up the bulk of the book. The “will they or won’t they?” dance goes on a little too long for my liking.
The second plotline is set in the months and eventually the days before “The Killing”. Maddie is seeing a therapist who is helping her with her issues. Not long ago, Maddie fell while on a camping trip with Ian and their son, Charlie, and she doesn’t remember what happened. She has a horrible scar down half of her face, and the police at the time were convinced that this couldn’t have been an accident…
The third plotline is set on “The Day of the Killing”, and we follow police officer Diane as she answers a call to a potential domestic violence case. These scenes are the least frequent in the novel. They provide readers with the reminder that something horrible is going to happen in this beautiful home in the dreamy suburbs of Kansas…
Beautiful Bad has lots of twists and turns. The ending is downright shocking. I love a good book that lays out all the clues for you in plain sight, yet you still don’t see the twist coming until the very end.
Maddie is an intriguing main character. When she hit her head on the camping trip, there was some brain damage, causing her to forget what had happened. Ward takes the amnesia and unreliable narrator tropes seen so frequently in psychological thrillers, and she puts a new spin on them. In the months before the killing scenes, Maddie’s therapist has her do writing therapy. Maddie’s answers to the writing prompts provide a peek into her past and tell us why Maddie is the way she is. Her therapist accuses her of “catastrophizing”, which is all too apparent in the answers that Maddie provides to the questions. This personality ‘quirk’ makes for a fascinating protagonist.
Maddie’s former best friend, Joanna, is also a compelling character. While Joanna has dedicated her life to aid in Macedonia, doing whatever it takes to ensure that much-needed supplies make it across the border of a country in turmoil, she isn’t quite what you would expect. She doesn’t come across as a stereotypical do-gooder, who’s sweet and caring and willing to always do what’s best. She parties a lot and the author hints that she’s partially in it for the danger, not just to help people. Although we don’t get any chapters from her point of view, Joanna is a well-fleshed-out, unique, and interesting character, which is uncommon in secondary characters in psychological thrillers.
While most of the book is from Maddie’s perspective, we do get some pivotal scenes from Ian’s. His chapters contribute significantly to the narrative, revealing his thoughts, motivations, hopes, fears. Without them, we would only have seen Ian from Maddie’s point of view, and the story would have been severely lacking. These scenes add something special to the book, and at the risk of spoiling any twists, I’ll leave it at that.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for a thrilling psychological thriller with a lot twists and turns and a surprising conclusion. Set in exotic locales like Macedonia, Iraq, and Kansas (just kidding on the last one), Beautiful Bad is a unique take on the genre, which should not be missed by seasoned fans and new readers alike.
*Thank you to Park Row Books for the ARC for review*
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