Thriller set mainly in Kansas and the Balkans

22nd March 2019

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward, thriller set mainly in Kansas and the Balkans.

Thriller set mainly in Kansas and the Balkans

This is a shape-shifting novel that bowls along at a good pace, with a well thought out ending. As the book opens the story is set in the present. Police Officer Diane Varga is on the way to attend an emergency call about half an hour south of Kansas City, and what she finds is a blood spattered crime scene.

Back to the early 2000s and the evolving story of Maddie and Jo’s friendship is being built up. They each live in a different Balkan country, Bulgaria and Macedonia respectively and theirs is an intense and caring relationship. Maddie visits Jo, working for an NGO, as often as she can and soon the friendship group swells as they spend time with a group of men who work in security around the world, often in war zones and unstable countries.

Ian in particular has magnetism that draws both women in, but Jo, having known him longer, cools down considerably, so much so that she warns Maddie to be extremely circumspect. And indeed her prophesies of abusive and violent behaviour on his part start to manifest. His  careless and aggressive traits, however, do not really deter Maddie who soon finds herself deeply enmeshed in his unreliable lifestyle. Jo withdraws and the two women fall out and Maddie goes on to have baby Charlie, who seals the seemingly abusive bond.  In the background is his psychopathic former girlfriend Fiona, who is never fully removed from his life. Vodka drinking, PTSD, you name it, Ian is certainly a psychological and emotional mess.

There is a very questionable accident. On a camping trip Maddie falls and it is mooted that Ian actually hit her very severely, scarring her face. No-one really wants to open this up but an incident like this is of concern to the therapist Maddie has chosen and for whom she writes down a lot of thoughts and feelings. The therapist has no boundaries and is rather bonkers, and she would probably have been struck off long ago, unable to practice… but stick with the story!

The timelines building up to the bloody event outlined at the beginning work well and flashbacks ten/fifteen years ago also provide coherent insight into why events pan out as they do. The author skilfully weaves back and forth and that works well. What didn’t work so well for me were two elements. In 2001 there is much mention of mobile phones, laptops, frantic texting and phones vibrating and it is almost as though the author has transposed modern day technology back to then … in the Balkans at that time, in particular, it is very unlikely to be era correct. The ending, too, although there are a fair few good twists and red herrings, is largely told through inner dialogue, explaining and rationalising events. For me that felt too contrived.

Overall, a gripping read with some minor flaws. I do think it will be one of the big reads in 2019.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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