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Book Review: Her Last Affair

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Despite the promotion of best-selling author John Searles new book Her Last Affair, as a tense, terrifying, twisty thriller about love and loss, it's a bit too clever with his chapter headings in the form of old movies, caustic dialogue, and three not unsympathetic, damaged characters to qualify as Stephen King nail-biting noir. But for these very reasons, the book will prove a hoot - an increasingly fast-paced narrative with a final paragraph that will blow you away.

Also ignore the soap opera title, Her Last Affair, the book having more than one main female character and none more bizarre than the loner middle-aged former nurse Skyla Hull, who dominates the story, someone not likely to have had or be having an affair.

Skyla who still wears her uniform and carries around a fentanyl citrate syringe in our pocket suffers from almost total macular degeneration. She lives alone in a decrepit old house in the woods in upstate New York next to an abandoned drive-in movie once owned by her late husband of 50 years.

An exact twin cottage sits next door, which she now owns. Widowed a year earlier when her husband had a freak accident shortly after she found out he had been cheating on her for years, Skyla places an ad for the twin cottage so someone can be nearby. She's memorized her immediate surroundings, but is lonely and consumed by feelings of regret and revenge.

She smart-mouths her only companion about what makes for a successful marriage. That companion is Siri the apple virtual assistant. One day, however, a desirable tenant shows up a charming Brit named Teddy Cornwall. She can't quite see him because of her being nearly blind, but they hit it off. She's smitten. He's solicitous.

The second female character, no connection to Skyla, is Linelle in Florida, married to the feckless Marcus who does have an affair going with his 1967 red Camaro Convertible. As for Linelle, she fell in love 30 years earlier - he broke her heart - when she worked at Disney Orlando – a guy who played a pirate on the Caribbean Magic Kingdom ride. Their conversations in a dark, dank underground store room at Disney are hilarious and show off Searles at his most critical and entertaining drawing no doubt on yours honed as a book editor at Cosmo and as a media-savvy guest on major TV.

The third main character appears about a fifth into the book again, seemingly unrelated to the others. It's pathetic 44-year-old Jeremy from Providence, Rhode Island. A bright but failed writer who suffers from an unloved and bullied childhood and a scarred face due to extreme acne.

Despised by his snooty Francophile mother as a loser, he would dearly have wanted to have an affair with Maryanne Popadowski, whom he had met years earlier when they both worked in a supply warehouse. She repairing rented out mannequins.

Voluptuous, sympathetic, she gravitates sexually to the gruff married warehouse owner who forces her one night to say why she was not interested in Jeremy. Jeremy overhears her. It's because he's ugly.

But he decides to look her up one day years later when he gets an assignment to review a backwater restaurant near where she lives. He takes with him a show dog poodle, he’s dog sitting for a woman about to become another ex.

All of these strange bizarre details are typical of the oddball lives Searles creates and ingeniously connects. And then there's that last paragraph, which will likely provoke a sly smile and get you rereading to see how he set it up.

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.