The story takes place in Birmingham, AL, and follows twenty-three-year-old Jane, a former foster child who has just arrived in town and is looking to start a new life. She works as a dog-walker in an extremely affluent gated community called Thornfield Estates, where, in addition to walking her client’s dogs, she also swipes their expensive jewelry.
Early on, we learn that Jane is not her real name, and she has some sort of dark past that she’s running from — an incident that occurred at her last foster home. Since that time, she’s been on the run. So now, she’s mostly broke, walking dogs and living with a rather unctuous roommate.
But her luck changes when she takes on a new client: the handsome and incredibly wealthy Eddie Rochester, a recent widower. His successful entrepreneur wife Bea (also not her real name), along with her best friend Blanche, drowned in a boating accident several months prior during a “girls only” weekend at the lake cabin. But their bodies were never found. Dum…Dum…Dum.
Jane now sets her sights much higher than merely on expensive jewelry — she sets them on Eddie and soon, is determined that she will be the new Mrs. Rochester. Sparks fly as Jane and Eddie begin a whirlwind romance. But as we soon learn, Jane is not the only one keeping deep dark secrets — secrets which may involve even murder.
As Jane gets to know Eddie and the gossipy neighbor women, she begins piecing together Bea’s past and figures out that Bea and Blanche weren’t really best friends but rather fierce competitors — enemies even. Though Jane hopes to put Eddie’s past behind them and start fresh, let’s just say that the past refuses to say buried. So we then begin to wonder: Is Bea really dead? Is Blanche really dead? Because remember… no bodies. Is Eddie really who he claimed he is? Is Jane safe? And most importantly: what really happened that night at the lake?
Jane then makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.
This is supposedly a darker retelling of Jane Eyre, which I really can’t comment on, given that I haven’t read it. But I can say that this was one hell of a dark and twisty rags-to-riches domestic thriller with a plethora of evil and menacing characters and a compelling mystery to solve.
Pretty much every character in the book is unlikable and has secrets, and that’s what made this book so much fun. I actually ended up liking all these mostly unlikeable people as they were, I thought, compelling and fascinating. Additionally, every relationship in this book was utterly dysfunctional: Eddie and Bea, Bea and Blanche, Blanche and her husband Tripp, Eddie and Blanche, and Jane and her slimy roommate.
Jane, who is quite a compelling and complex character, is the principal narrator in the story though later on in the book, there are some chapters told from Eddie’s and Bea’s point of view, which added to the suspense and intrigue of the narrative. It was fun to see the story unravel from several different perspectives, all of which help provide a clearer picture of what actually happened to Bea and Blanche.
As the story deepens, we see that there’s really a lot going on in this novel: blackmail, class differences, deception, murder, manipulation, keeping up with the Jones, identity, hidden agendas, dark pasts and layers upon layers of secrets, as well as plenty of suspense.
I love a story where nobody or nothing is as they seem, which was definitely the case here. There was also kind of a Rebecca vibe (by Daphne du Maurier) as Jane found herself living under the shadow of Bea — a self-starter who created a multimillion-dollar empire.
All in all, The Wife Upstairs is an immersive and addicting story with a Southern gothic vibe that held me in rapt attention until the surprising ending. I loved how the taut tension, as well as a sense of unease, builds up slowly as we move through the pages. So many lies, so many secrets, leading to many surprising twists, all resulting in a fast read with plenty of punch.
And I loved the fact that you didn’t know who to believe until the very end of the book. Because that’s what makes this dark and chilling novel so absolutely good, the not knowing what’s happening, the constant doubt. The past then meets up with all the characters in the present, and the intensity builds to a crescendo, resulting in a satisfying yet stomach-churning psychological thriller.