John B. Valeri

An Inconvenient Wife
by Karen E. Olson
Pegasus Crime, April 2024, $27

Connecticut’s Karen E. Olson has long been one of the most versatile voices in crime fiction. An editor and former newspaper journalist, Olson made her debut with the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award-winning Sacred Cows (2005)—the first in her traditional mystery series featuring New Haven-based reporter Annie Seymour. Then, Olson wrote the Vegas-set Tattoo Shop cozies (yes, you read that correctly) and the the Black Hat thrillers about a hacker on the run. This spring, she makes a triumphant return with An Inconvenient Wife—a modern retelling of Henry VIII and his ill-fated brides.

Meet Kate Parker. She’s billionaire businessman Hank Tudor’s sixth, and newest, wife. As his former assistant, she’s used to running interference for him—but all that changes with their exchange of vows. The honeymoon is short-lived, when a body is discovered sans head in the marshland that surrounds Tudor's Greenwich summer home. And while that would be a most unfortunate occurrence under any circumstances, it’s also a highly suspicious one, as the decapitated remains of a Jane Doe were also found on his Martha’s Vineyard property years ago. It can’t possibly be coincidence, can it? (Spoiler alert: No.) Sussing out the truth may just be the death of Kate.

Temporarily ensconced at a bed-and-breakfast across from the crime scene—operated by Hank’s fourth wife, Anna Klein, who also cares for his two children from previous marriages—Kate does the unthinkable: She begins to question her husband. After all, two of his previous wives have gone missing and are presumed dead, while a third, Catherine, lives in seclusion. Can it be that his ruthlessness extends beyond the boardroom and into the bedroom? Having come into possession of a diary kept by one of Hank's missing wives, Kate begins to see a different, domineering side to her seemingly solicitous husband. And the final entry is both eerie and potentially prophetic: HE’S GOING TO KILL ME.

Told through the alternating viewpoints of wives' Kate, Anna, and Catherine—along with extracts from the aforementioned diary—Olson offers twists aplenty while illuminating the complex inner lives of the women who outwardly gave up their identities to become Mrs. Tudor. Hank’s pattern is clear: He loved them, until he didn’t. But does that make him a monster? Things are rarely so straightforward—at least in fiction. As the current and former Mrs. Tudors, Kate and Anna, form a tenuous alliance in search of truth, Hank becomes both increasingly distant and demanding. Will Kate break free from his clutches—or will history repeat itself once again?

Karen E. Olson—a self-professed Tudor-era obsessive—achieves something wholly original with An Inconvenient Wife, which is both a crime novel and an astute study in marital relations and power struggles. While it takes its inspiration from Henry VIII and his wives, a king (and killer) who lived more than five hundred years ago, the story is thoroughly modern. Because the motives for murder seldom go out of style—even as the machinations change (or don’t). At the risk of sounding impertinent: You may just lose your head over this book.