Book Review: Careful What You Wish For by Hallie Ephron

Careful What You Wish For

Hallie Ephron

August 6, 2019

Careful What You Wish For by Hallie Ephron introduces Emily Harlow—a professional organizer who helps people declutter their lives who finds herself in a mess that might be too big for her to clean up.

New York Times bestselling author Hallie Ephron (yes, Ephron as in the Ephron writing dynasty) has made a name for herself with standalone suspense novels that place ordinary people in extraordinary situations and then examine the collateral damage. A former book reviewer for the Boston Globe, she is also a five-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and author of the Edgar Award-nominated non-fiction title, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. Her newest, Careful What You Wish For, follows 2017’s You’ll Never Know, Dear.

As the story opens, readers are introduced to Emily Harlow—a former elementary school teacher-turned-professional organizer, à la Marie Kondo. Emily and her best friend, Becca Jain, are the owners and operators of Freeze-Frame Clutter Kickers, a service that helps people declutter their lives… for a price. It’s a bit ironic, given that Emily’s lawyer husband, Frank, is a yard sale enthusiast who never comes home empty-handed. And while Emily used to find Frank’s collecting endearing, it’s become a growing source of contention between them (as has their inability to conceive). Fortunately, she has two new clients to distract her from any homicidal instincts on the home front.

The first, Mrs. Murphy, is an elderly widow who wants to hire Emily and Becca to clean out her deceased husband’s storage unit which is chock full of old books and documents. It seems a straightforward enough assignment—until Emily begins to suspect that Mr. Murphy may not have obtained the items legally. The second prospective client, Quinn Newell—a young wife whose belongings have been relegated to her rich husband’s garage—leaves Emily unsettled. Sure, the two found common ground in chilled Prosecco and girl talk about how to do away with their collector husbands, but that was all in jest. Or at least Emily thought it was until Quinn’s husband doesn’t come home. Guilt by association can be bad for business, but subsequent events make clear that there’s more at stake than Emily’s career livelihood.

The narrative is a melding of escalating personal and professional tensions that threaten to spill over into toxic territory. The mysteries themselves (which do in fact include murder) are multi-faceted and interweaving and serve to underscore the book’s themes. Further, Ephron deftly explores the dynamics of marriage, and how petty grievances can become burning resentments over time. There are twists and turns aplenty, which cause Emily to question both her loyalties and her sanity. It’s a precarious position, but one she can’t seem to extricate herself from. Can Emily’s old life be salvaged, or will she have to make a clean sweep—or will she not live long enough to find out?

With Careful What You Wish For, Hallie Ephron has crafted a slow-burning, claustrophobic tale that taps into the zeitgeist of the (inter)national cleaning frenzy. It’s good, old fashioned storytelling at its best—with a modern bent that should appeal to a diverse readership. Turns out that organizing a sock drawer is a lot simpler than decluttering the contents of our human hearts and minds. That process may be messy, or even murderous—but this book’s a real keeper!

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