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Book Review: ‘The Ex’ by Alafair Burke

Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all well. Today I’m posting my review of Alafair Burke’s fantastic legal drama, ‘The Ex’. I think that those of you who enjoy courtroom dramas could really enjoy this book, so I thought I’d review it for you! Keep reading to discover my thoughts…



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Olivia Randall is one of New York City’s best criminal defence lawyers. When she gets a phone call informing her that her former fiancée has been arrested for a triple homicide there is no doubt in her mind as to his innocence. The only question is who would go to such great lengths to frame him – and why?
For Olivia, representing Jack is a way to make up for past regrets, and the hurt she caused him, but as the evidence against him mounts, she is forced to confront her doubts.


** TRIGGER WARNING ** Contains repeated references to a crime (shooting). Also contains references to prostitution. Explores the theme of mental illness in some depth.

‘The Ex’ was released in July 2016, and is Alafair Burke’s third standalone novel, following on from ‘Long Gone’ (2011) and ‘If You Were Here’ (2013). Her latest standalone, ‘The Wife’, was released in 2017. She has also written books in the “Ellie Hatcher” series, the “Samantha Kincaid” series, and the “Under Suspicion” series (co-written with Mary Higgins Clark). Burke is a former prosecutor, who now teaches criminal law and lives in Manhattan.

The novel has received lots of positive reviews, from the likes of Big Issue: “A brilliant, ultra-sharp legal thriller”, Daily Express: “The Ex has a page-turning plot that will keep you guessing and leave you wanting more” and Tripfiction: “The Ex will transport you to the sharp world of due process and law in the city that never sleeps”. Many fellow authors also praised the book, such as Karin Slaughter: “Highly addictive”, Harlan Coben: “A major talent” and Kimberly McCreight: “The Ex is an expertly crafted, intricately woven novel that is as emotionally complex as it is riveting”.

‘The Ex’ follows the life of Olivia Randall, one of New York City’s best criminal defence lawyers. Her entire life is turned upside-down one day, when she receives a phone call informing her that her former fiance has been arrested for a triple homicide. She believes he is innocent and goes to great lengths to protect him … but can she really trust him?

The narrative is told entirely from the first-person perspective of Olivia, and it is also narrated in the present tense only. The reader is given a detailed insight to Olivia’s thoughts and feelings. There are some sections that make allusions to the past, but overall the narrative has a great sense of immediacy. This narrative structure is on the more simplistic side, but it is very successful in what it does.

Olivia is definitely my favourite character within the novel. She’s very good at what she does and is a highly sophisticated, knowledgeable lawyer. She immediately presumes, without a doubt, that Jack could not have committed such atrocious crimes – perhaps naively so, however. She struggles to come to terms with the fact that the kind, loving ex-boyfriend she once knew may have changed, and there may be a darker side to his personality that she doesn’t know about. She’s incredibly down-to-earth, but she does have her flaws, making her an extremely realistic and relatable character.

On the outside, Jack is a seemingly harmless man. He’s suffered a lot of hardships in his life, including a tough break up with his ex Olivia, mental illness, hospitalisation and the death of his later partner, who was killed in a mass shooting. He’s a single father, raising his daughter Buckley with little help. However, it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more to Jack than meets the eye, and he has a lot of dark secrets lurking beneath the surface.

Jack’s daughter Buckley is a brilliantly-constructed character. She’s very intelligent and wise, seeming much older than her teenage years. She’s lost her mother and has suffered greatly because of this. Her and Olivia form a really touching relationship, and Olivia almost becomes a stand-in mother figure to her. Buckley is a strong-willed, determined young girl, and I really admired her strength. But she ends up being a much more complex character than she initially appears to be.

Other characters in the novel include: Einer and Don (Olivia’s colleagues), Scott Temple (the prosecution lawyer), Charlotte (Jack’s best friend), Melissa (Olivia’s best friend), Malcolm (one of the shooting victims and Todd’s father), Todd (the gunman that killed Jack’s partner Molly), Madeline (a mysterious friend of Jack’s), and various other members of the legal and police teams. As you can see, there is a large cast of characters – but all bring something different to the novel.

** TRIGGER WARNING ** (I apologise for any spoilers here.) The novel explores the crime of mass shooting in some detail, with constant references being made to the crimes and the victims of the shootings. The novel also touches on prostitution and makes some sexual references. The theme of mental illness is explored in some detail, including a hospitalisation at a psychiatric ward. All of these issues are referenced in subsequent detail and with sensitivity, but if any of these may trigger a negative response, I suggest you skip this book.

The narrative motors onwards, increasing in tension and suspense. There are many aspects to the crime that don’t add up, and Olivia must push herself to her limits in order to discover the truth. She soon begins to see that not everything is as it seems, and maybe she should have kept her wits about her…

So, let’s talk about the ending. Just when you think that the novel is going to conclude one way, Burke throws a curveball at the reader and changes the entire course of the novel. I definitely couldn’t have predicted that ending, and I was really astounded with the way events came together. There isn’t a dramatic, action-packed end scene in this novel – more of a big reveal and resolution. I really enjoyed the ending, and felt that it tied together the events really well.

I highly recommend this novel to those of you who enjoy slower-paced thrillers, specifically those of you who enjoy legal thrillers. It’s not by any means my “perfect” book – I personally like a much faster pace and more suspense. But that being said, this novel is, I would imagine, a very good exploration of the law and criminal justice system (although I can’t say I’ve read too many legal thrillers). Overall, I did quite enjoy the book, and I still raced through to the end!









Happy reading 🙂

3 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘The Ex’ by Alafair Burke

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