A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward- Feature and Review


In the most explosive and twisted psychological thriller since The Woman in the Window, a beautiful marriage turns beautifully bad.

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's romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.



Beautiful BadBeautiful Bad by Annie Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward is a 2019 Park Row publication.

Strange, absorbing, but too predictable-

Maddie and her friend, Jo, travel abroad to dangerous locations, which puts them in contact with paid ‘bodyguard’, Ian. Maddie and Ian begin an emotional affair, which is complicated by Ian’s entanglement with an unstable woman, and by Maddie’s friendship with Jo.

Nine years after they parted ways, they are reunited, and embark on a torrid, yet disturbingly intense, affair which eventually leads to marriage and the birth of their son, Charlie. It also brings Maddie full circle, as she and Ian decide to settle down in her old hometown in Kansas, a place that in her youth, Maddie couldn’t wait to escape from.

Now, an urgent 911 call sends police units to Maddie and Ian’s peaceful neighborhood where they discover a shockingly violent scene.

From here the story takes the reader back ten weeks prior to the 911 call, walking us through the events which lead up to the ‘Day of the Killing’, while also keeping us informed about the investigation as it proceeds.

The various timelines are not hard to keep up with, and for a while the murky shadows of Ian’s world held my attention, and intrigued me, more than any other character in the novel. Ian has obviously seen too much for a human to fully cope with psychologically, which has left him with PTSD. His mental state directly effects the nomadic Maddie who feels stifled by Ian’s inability to socialize and travel. And what about Jo? After Maddie married Ian, Jo cut off all contact with her, although Maddie still cares for her friend and misses her.

And what about the ‘accident’ that left Maddie’s eye disfigured? Everyone seems to think Ian is responsible for what happened to Maddie, but she refuses to accept that. However, she does try ‘writing therapy’ to help her deal with the aftermath and perhaps remember what really happened to her. Meanwhile, Maddie’s most pressing concern is keeping Charlie safe.

I found myself invested in the story early on, but as it progressed, things began to click into place like a child’s picture puzzle instead of a complex jigsaw puzzle. Yet, despite my having guessed where the story was heading, I kept turning pages, hoping to see a more ingenious plot development or a surprise twist in the works. Unfortunately, the story became more and more obvious and predictable. Yet, I had to see how it would all end. The conclusion didn’t disappoint me, but it didn’t wow me either.

I can tell the author put some thought into the book and to be completely honest, it isn’t a bad story. It is just a little uneven- too ambitious in some ways, but not challenging enough in others. I did, despite the predictability, find the book strangely absorbing. In the end, the outcome did provoke some deeper thought, especially on the topic of PTSD.

Many books are enjoyable and entertaining without requiring intense concentration and there’s nothing wrong with that. Often, we go to see movies to escape and be entertained at the end of a long week, and don’t seem to mind mid-range films that were good ‘in the moment’ but perhaps not all that plausible, realistic, or memorable in the long term. Maybe we are too hard on books that fall into that same mid-range zone. Even in this book, Ian admitted he wasn’t always up for hardcore military strategy or role-playing games, occasionally opting for a casual game of Candy Crush.

Not every book is going to challenge us in the extreme and to expect every book to reach that level reduces some of the entertainment value books provide to us. This one wasn’t mind blowing, but it was entertaining and enjoyable ‘in the moment’ and sometimes that’s good enough.





Annie's sophomore novel and first psychological thriller BEAUTIFUL BAD will be published by Harper Collins/Park Row books in March, 2019.

Annie received a BA in English Lit with an emphasis in Creative Writing from UCLA and an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute. While studying at AFI, she sold her first short screenplay to MTV/ BFCS Productions. Starring Adam Scott, STRANGE HABIT became a Grand Jury Award Winner at the Aspen Film Festival and a Sundance Festival Official Selection.

After film school, Annie moved to Eastern Europe to work for Fodor Travel Guides, covering regions of Spain and Bulgaria. She remained in Bulgaria for five years spanning a civilian uprising and government overthrow. The novel THE MAKING OF JUNE, which Annie wrote with the Bulgarian revolution and Balkan crisis as its backdrop was sold to Penguin Putnam and published to critical acclaim in 2002.

During Annie's five years in the Balkans she received a Fulbright Scholarship, taught at the University of Sofia, and script doctored eight screenplays for Nu-Image, an Israeli/American film company that produced a number of projects in Bulgaria for the SyFy Channel. She was later the recipient of an Escape to Create artist residency.

She lives in Kansas City, Kansas with her family.

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