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The Dark Heart of a Marriage

Domestic violence is at the center of Kimberly Belle’s Dear Wife

Told through the viewpoints of three characters — a wife, a husband, and a police detective — Kingsport native Kimberly Belle’s fifth novel, Dear Wife, is a thriller that will keep readers guessing until the last page, but it’s also a powerful depiction of the very real dangers women face when they try to escape a violent relationship.

Photo: Brandon Wattson

On the run from her abusive husband, Beth follows a carefully thought-out plan: She’s living under an assumed name with forged documents, and she has several burner phones to toss when used. Still, she never feels safe because one thing is certain: Her husband will come looking for her and when he finds her, he will kill her.

Back in Beth’s hometown, Jeffrey comes home from a business trip to discover that his wife, Sabine, is missing. Her car has been left abandoned, and since he and Sabine haven’t been getting along, the police regard him as a suspect in her disappearance. Marcus is the detective assigned to Sabine’s case, and he’s determined to find the missing woman no matter what he has to do.

Belle makes it clear that, for Beth, the stakes are life and death. She either gets away from her husband or she dies. She’s reached this terrible point in spite of her past attempts to get help. For example, when she talks to her priest, the result is typical of what many women experience:

The holy hush — that’s what I’ve since learned it’s called, this brushing of allegations like mine under the altar rug, though I suppose I should give Father Ian a little credit. He lived up to his end of the bargain and talked to you. But whatever he said only made things worse. You came home looking for a fight, one that ended with a concussion and a weeklong ringing in my ears. That Sunday, Father Ian pressed the communion wafer through my split lips like nothing had ever happened. As soon as I turned away, I spit the thing in my hand.

As Beth hides, she finds a community of sorts among those who are forced for one reason or another to live on the fringes of society. Although she doesn’t feel secure enough to share her story with anyone, she sees a hope that, if she survives, she may be able to trust again.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey encounters growing suspicion from his sister-in-law, his boss, and soon everyone in town. The press gathers outside his house. His quick temper and rash actions don’t help his case, nor does the fact that Sabine’s real estate career has been taking off while his own is static and disappointing. He can’t help but wonder if his wife might have set him up in some way.

Marcus, determined to find the missing woman, is more than willing to run roughshod over anyone and any rule that may stand in his way. He enjoys making Jeffrey squirm and believes he knows exactly what happened. His only soft spot seems to be his family. He never misses a family celebration at his mother’s, perhaps in reaction to his father’s imprisonment years ago and his having to become the man of the house at a young age.

Belle has crafted an intricate plot, with twists and turns so tightly woven that revealing almost anything risks spoiling the suspense. But be assured that the final resolution is not a surprise out of left field. Instead, readers will nod in recognition as earlier passages become clear.

Dear Wife shows how far a man will go to control a woman, the lengths a woman has to go in order to escape death at the hands of such a man, and the sad state of a society in which many people still turn a blind eye to her suffering.

The Dark Heart of a Marriage

Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in 19th-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.