"Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry... That something is really, really wrong with me"
Maddie, and Ian met at a party while they were both working in the Balkans. Years later, they are married and living in Maddie's home town in Kansas. They have a young son named Charlie and a nice house, but Ian is haunted by the nightmares from his time as a bodyguard in various war-torn countries. Maddie is worried by Ian's paranoia and becomes fearful for him and Charlie. After a terrible accident leaves her scarred, with gaps in her memory, Maddie reaches out to her old friend Joanna for help. Events start to unfold which will end in more violence and death. Beautiful Bad is the second novel by American writer Annie Ward. It's a chilling story of PTSD, love and jealousy. It stood out from others in the genre I've read because, in addition to the standard relationship drama and domestic trauma, Ian and Joanna are living with the aftermath of their time surrounded by the horrors of war and poverty. The story is partly told in flashbacks, some from the weeks leading up to the Day of the Killing, and others from years before, giving the back story of Maddie's relationship with Ian and her friendship and falling out with Joanna. All this jumping back and forth in time, combined with shifts in point of view including Maddie, Ian, police detectives and even the emergency services dispatcher, got a little confusing at times but also created a rich and detailed context for the events. The book is as much character driven as it is plot-driven, and it's unusual to find such an even balance between the two in a psychological thriller.
The plot is gripping, and while it does have some twists and turns, none of them feel gratuitous or forced just so the publisher can write on the cover that there's "A TWIST YOU'LL NEVER SEE COMING!" Beautiful Bad is a clever, thought-provoking read that would make a good book club selection. Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Quercus Books, in exchange for an honest review.