Book Review: The Self-Made Widow by Fabian Nicieza

Fabian Nicieza's The Self-Made Widow is a diabolically funny murder mystery featuring two unlikely sleuths investigating a murder that reveals the dark underbelly of suburban marriage. Don't miss Doreen Sheridan's review!

So, full disclaimer, I’ve been a huge fan of Fabian Nicieza since the 1990s, when he wrote multiple X-Men titles for Marvel Comics. When I heard that he had moved into writing novels, I was ecstatic. Mortifyingly, I have not yet had time to pick up the first book in the Suburban Dicks series, but was so thrilled to finally get my hands on this follow-up, The Self-Made Widow.

And what a read! One can absolutely expect irreverent humor from the co-creator of Deadpool, and I already knew from my enthusiastic reading of Mr Nicieza’s work in comics that he has the chops to write twisty, thrilling mysteries with compelling characters. I was completely unprepared, however, for his keen insight into the chaos of suburban life and marriage. The way he entwines both outright villainy with subtle but no-less-cutting social slights is just exquisite, as here where Molly Goode—the suspected self-made widow of the book’s title—lets our heroine, consulting detective Andrea Stern, know that Molly is in every way her superior:

But it was one look in particular that caught Andrea’s attention. Molly had turned from her conversation to watch an embarrassed Andrea wrestle with JoJo. A look in her eyes hit Andrea like a punch to the stomach. Not annoyance or frustration, not surprise or concern, not sympathy or support.

 

A look of…victory.

 

It was a look that combined judgment and gloating at the same time. A superior sympathy that the winners of a game always gave to the losers.

JoJo is Andrea’s youngest child, and at least one fifth of the reason why Andrea, once a promising FBI candidate, is stuck in suburbia instead. At thirty-four, Andrea has five children, a husband she barely has any patience for, and a near-terminal case of boredom. When she had the opportunity the previous year to solve a murder, involving herself in a friendly capacity with law enforcement once more, she felt like she was finally back in her element. And while the entire effort brought her greater notoriety than she’d bargained for, she was more than ready to continue offering her services to any cops and federal agents who might want her discerning eye on their most difficult cases.

But even her biggest supporters look at her askance when she posits that the local queen bee of the suburban mom circuit is guilty of murder. Andrea wasn’t suspicious of Molly at first, not even when Molly asked whether she could use her contacts to bypass an autopsy after Molly’s husband Derek died in his sleep. Almost everyone knew that Derek had had heart trouble, and Molly didn’t like the idea of having him cut up for no reason. But that weird gloating look causes Andrea’s crime-fighting senses to tingle, exacerbated afterwards by Molly’s odd behavior in scrubbing every trace of Derek’s existence from her life. 

Did Molly really kill her husband, or is Andrea merely looking for trouble where none exists? She tries to explain her thinking to a police detective friend:

“What if the leads we’ve chased were part of a plan she had put in place–including asking me to get you to bypass the autopsy–because she knew it would lead to the moment you just had with her? Walking out of the police station, forever absolved of his murder because of what his death cost her?”

 

“So, you have no evidence that she killed him, but you plan to prove that she did it by showing she planted evidence to prove that she didn’t kill him, all as a way of covering up that she actually did kill him?” Rossi asked.

 

“That’s exactly right,” she said.

 

“And that’s exactly crazy,” he replied.

I was really impressed not only by the construction and execution of this terrific mystery, but also by how the characters dealt with external doubt and internal insecurities. Andrea is both aided in her investigations and joined in her anxieties by her childhood friend Kenny Lee, an ambitious journalist who won a Pulitzer in his teens, flamed out, and is slowly rebuilding his career—one Netflix investigative special at a time. They’re each trying to sort out the fallouts from their respective childhoods, as well as the complexities of their personal lives. I loved how easy they were to root for. For all that they were occasionally shallow and petty and obnoxious, their flaws were highly relatable, even as they pursued personal fulfillment and, most importantly, justice for those unable to find it for themselves.

I can’t wait to read more of their exploits, and am so glad that this author’s excellent work in comics has translated so enthrallingly to a more mainstream print medium.

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