By: Matt Marinovich
Publication Date: 1/19/2016
My Rating: 4 Stars
A scathing and exhilarating thriller that begins with a husband's obsession with the seemingly vacant house next door.
It's wintertime in the Hamptons, where Scott and his wife, Elise, have come to be with her terminally ill father, Victor, to await the inevitable. As weeks turn to months, their daily routine—Elise at the hospital with her father, Scott pretending to work and drinking Victor's booze—only highlights their growing resentment and dissatisfaction with the usual litany of unhappy marriages: work, love, passion, each other. But then Scott notices something simple, even innocuous. Every night at precisely eleven, the lights in the neighbor's bedroom turn off. It's clearly a timer . . .but in the dead of winter with no one else around, there's something about that light he can't let go of. So one day while Elise is at the hospital, he breaks in. And he feels a jolt of excitement he hasn't felt in a long time. Soon, it's not hard to enlist his wife as a partner in crime and see if they can't restart the passion.
Their one simple transgression quickly sends husband and wife down a deliriously wicked spiral of bad decisions, infidelities, escalating violence, and absolutely shocking revelations.
Matt Marinovich makes a strong statement with this novel. The Winter Girl is the psychological thriller done to absolute perfection.
A special thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Matt Marinovich delivers a deliciously evil creepy psycho-thriller THE WINTER GIRL, cleverly infused with family secrets, juicy suspense, "laugh out loud " hilarious, and twisted dark, sarcastic humor— far more entertaining than Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl’s couple, Nick and Amy.
Even though The Winter Girl's couple, Scott and Elise, have their own individual naughty plans, secrets, obsessions, and dangerous sexual games; they are partners in crime, even with their wacko personalities, and hidden separate agendas.
The Winter Girl has the addition of Hamptons' alluring winter setting, a vacant house, a perverted evil old twisted sadistic wicked father, Victor (who will not die)--continuing to plot his evil, even with cancer on his death bed. There’s also the other worthy characters: the nurse, and the mysterious winter girl to add a bit of spice, and horror. A dangerous game of mind-blowing cat and mouse—making this an ideal “book to film” adaption. The movie would be a riot.
It is winter in early December--Elsie’s dad has colon cancer metastasized, forcing them to leave their home to head to the Hamptons, to help with his care. Elsie is a speech therapist in Brooklyn. (not seeing a life worth much, they left behind).
Her dad, Victor is an evil perverted gross old man. Her younger brother, Ryder is in jail (they have a special relationship, speaking in their own code). Her mother had left her father a long time ago. Her mother Puerto Rican, father Caucasian. He married his housekeeper. He was rich. He was abusive. He is nasty.
Told from Scott’s point of view, he formerly taught at the New School, before they cut staff, then ended up photographing Asian newlyweds in Prospect Park. A gig he landed through a student; however, this was short lived.
Now, he has nothing but a house next door, an attempt to keep his marriage intact, and to hurry and collect the money from the old man. Victor and Scott despise one another.
Not a career driven or super couple, they are more about wanting the old man to die to inherit his millions, and cannot wait for him to rest in peace somewhere besides this earth. They hope he has not changed the will. In the beginning of the book, Elsie defends her father, and the by the end of the book, she is the one who wants him dead.
“The terrible thing about watching a parent die, one day you think they are ready to check out and the next they are on the five- year plan."
Appears they need to pace themselves or do something to accelerate the process.
They are staying in Victor's home, while he is in the hospital. With little incentive to do any photography, while Elsie is away at the hospital visiting her father; Scott is intrigued with the house next door. The two lights in the upstairs bedroom were on a timer-- they turned off at 11 pm every night. Obsession.
Scott has nothing better to do all day, except drink all Victor’s liquor, watch the cooking channel, and imagine what is inside the vacant house. He decides he will satisfy his curiosity. The home is unlocked and makes his way in to explore. He dreams of photographing his wife nude at the pool, and possible some sex in the house in order to add some spice, to his rather dull marriage.
“The funny thing about the day I pretended to be a speech therapist is that it also turned into the first real argument between me and Elsie. I basically told her that she’d wasted seventy-five thousand dollars on a master’s in speech. She told me I’d wasted ten years of my life pretending to be a photographer. We made up later than night, but looking back, I realize we never forgave each other. Part of each of us was always keeping an eye on the other from then on, even after we got married.”
Scott gets excited, about the house. Forbidden fruit. Making him feel as though he and Elsie are back in college, stumbling around in the woods, after taking two hits of Ecstasy. He talks Elsie into joining him for a little quickie in the vacant house; however, they soon find out this happened to be a brutal murder crime scene.
Whose blood? Whose murder? They cannot go to the police, since they are guilty of B&E. They could have picked any of these homes and instead they had sex in a murder scene, in one of the less impressive houses.
The ongoing mystery. Where are the owners of the house? Yes, it is winter, however, when searching through the house, looking a bills, bank statements, and listening to their voice mail answering machine, it looks like they are not returning, and no caretakers. They imagine all sorts of of scenarios
Then old man Victor decides he wants to return home to die. This is when the fun and games begin!
Victor and nurse, and a game between Scott, Elsie, and Victor. Victor controls everyone. He says he knows the person in the house. Who is THE WINTER GIRL, her story, and how does she link to Victor and Elsie? What is the mystery behind Elsie, her father, and brother? Who owns the house? Can Scott trust Victor, the Winter Girl, or Elsie?
"When you share a secret with someone, the mystery is cut by half." He was still excited. Scott could not deny the thrill of it. Maybe this house could save their marriage. "He feels like a suburban astronaut, exploring an abandoned home in which the crew had gone missing. "
Besides the steadily growing affair with the house next door, there are many other disturbing developments to add to the complexity of the mystery.
Combined with a ceramic kitchen pig carrying a chalkboard, “The Best is Yet to Come,” the mysterious winter girl, devious Carmelita, the ex-boyfriend, the brother Ryder, Elsie’s dark mysterious side, the dry as a bone turkey, The Ensure, a mysterious key, numbers- odd/even, infidelity, violence, money, the Swains (Dick), and the evil deeds of the sadistic father…. A plot to murder—action packed.
“Everyone should have a winter girl.” “Secrets burn a hole in everything. They were burning a hole in my life before I was even born.”
Who is more twisted and evil: Elsie, Victor, Scott, or Carmelita? (Ideal for book clubs or further discussions).
Marinovich's wit, humor, and sarcastic one- liners set TWG apart—Devious twists, turns, shockers. I kept saying OMG, laughing -whereas with Gone Girl, I never cracked a smile during the movie or the book. If you are going to play sicko, combine it with good humor. Could not stop reading until finishing at 4am. Chilling and absorbing; yes, the ending is unexpected, however, is this not what readers come to expect with a book of this nature?
Psycho-thrillers are made for amusing its readers; escaping the ordinary…leaving room for the reader to explore and space for the imagination. Characters switching sides who cannot be trusted and average people thrust into strange or dangerous situations.
The Winter Girl accomplishes all of the above, plus more.
Have also pre-ordered the audio, narrated by Quincy Dunn-Baker , one of my favorite narrators of Linwood Barclay's crime thrillers. Should be entertaining!
Buy the Book
"It seems like a knife ought to play some part in Matt Marinovich’s The Winter Girl, because that’s what his story feels like: sharp and delightfully treacherous. It cuts, and then it cuts some more. Marinovich is merciless toward his characters—toward his readers, too. This is one of the leanest, meanest books I’ve read in a long, long time. I suspect Jim Thompson would’ve loved it. James M. Cain, too. And Patricia Highsmith. That’s how great this book is.”
--Scott Smith, New York Times bestselling author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan
"The bleak landscape of the Hamptons in winter provides the backdrop for this absorbing thriller from Marinovich...an engrossing, disquieting read for a chilly night."
"[The Winter Girl] is a dark and ever darkening psychological thriller."
"Family secrets and marital transgressions weave a suspenseful Hitchcockian story of intrigue, mystery, and deceit."
"The twists are clever and the pacing relentless."
Mark Rubinstein Huffington Post: 'The Winter Girl,' a Conversation With Matt Marinovich
About the Author
MATT MARINOVICH is the author of Strange Skies and lives in Brooklyn. He has worked as an editor at Interview, Martha Stewart Living, People, and Real Simple. His writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Esquire.com, Salon, Quarterly West, Open City, Barcelona Review, Mississippi Review, Poets & Writers, and other publications.