Wednesday, November 09, 2022


Title: A Familiar Stranger

Author: AR Torre
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 275
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Lillian Smith, wife, mother and professional obituary writer, is neglected by her husband Mike, despite obeying all his written and unwritten rules. When she comes to know of her husband’s affair over a long period, she feels betrayed and longs to lash out at him. So when she meets David Laurent, she embarks on a steamy affair with him. What she tells him about herself is a lie, based on the personal details of a dead woman that Lillian has used to invent a new persona for herself.

While in this persona, she is cool and elegant, a sophisticated woman. So well is she written that we, like David, believe in the lie of the persona.

But Lillian isn’t the only person who is leading a double life.


The book is written in the first person past tense PoV of Lillian, and occasionally of Mike, besides a few chapters from two other PoVs. The main narrative is punctuated by Lillian’s riddle tweets, where she invites her followers to play guessing games about who has died. She is obsessed with death.

The narrative is divided into several parts, including Two Months Before the Death, Six Weeks Before the Death, One Month Before the Death, Two Weeks Before the Death, One Week Before the Death, and Now. These sections count down to a death, and yet we have no clue who is the character that will die. But it feels important, given that Lillian writes obituaries for a living. The section, One Week Before the Death, ends without us being any wiser about who has died.


This isn’t a typical whodunit. Past the 55 percent mark, we still don’t know who is dead. Like the followers of Lillian’s Twitter account, we are left guessing which of the characters has died, piecing together the clues that the author has casually thrown our way. The big twist, the identity of the victim, comes at nearly the 59 percent mark.


While Mike makes no secret of the fact that he is hiding something and that he is controlling his wife, we find ourselves slowly getting to know Lillian and trusting her, until she shows herself to be an unreliable narrator.


There are just a few characters, and yet they all seemed important in the light of what is going to happen.

Lillian has the most delicious, self-deprecating humour. I haven’t seen it done so well in quite a while. I also liked her choice of job. She makes people look good in their obits, giving them a dignity that they might have lacked in life. While she is too emotional, Mike denies his emotions, and is clinical, practical and detached, even in the midst of deep personal crisis.

I wish there had been more of Jacob, Lillian’s son. His emotions towards his parents were barely discussed, and I would have liked to see more of him.

I didn’t appreciate the manner in which the identity of the murderer is revealed. It’s always better when another character figures things out, than when the murderer admits their crime.


Here are some quotes from the book:
Don’t wait up. The three most telling words in a marriage.

Intelligence was the gravity that pinned all the pieces onto the board.

A callus began to grow around my feelings for Mike.


Chapter 48 is a gut-wrenching expression of grief.


There were some typos that will hopefully be addressed. All in all, I liked this book.


(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 

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