The Widower's Wife: A Novel

The Widower's Wife: A Novel

by Cate Holahan


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USA Today Bestseller

"One of those rare thrillers that really will keep you reading all night."
--Kirkus starred review

"In this chilling cat-and-mouse tale... Holahan keeps the action going."
--Publishers Weekly

Ana Bacon, a beautiful young wife and mother, tumbled off a cruise ship into dark and deadly waters. Ana is gone--leaving behind her wealthy husband and adorable daughter--but not everything about her disappearance adds up. What secrets did she leave behind?

Investigator Ryan Monahan is a numbers man. So when his company sends him the Bacon case, which could net a ten-million-dollar payout, Monahan doubts that her death is just a tragic accident. But the husband has a substantial alibi and a number of witnesses claim to have seen Ana fall, and the official ruling seems to hold up.

Still, the more Monahan uncovers about Ana’s life, the more he realizes how many people would kill to keep her secrets hidden. And the closer he gets to the truth, the greater the odds grow that he, too, will take a fatal fall.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629537658
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Cate Holahan, author of the acclaimed debut Dark Turns, is an award-winning journalist and a former television producer. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt


Term life
An insurance policy that provides protection for a limited period of time.


Ryan Monahan liked liars. Not the three-times-a-conversation fibbers, who prettied up the truth to appear less pedestrian at parties and would swear to God they’d had just one, Officer. Those average assholes weren’t even trying. No, Ryan liked the real deal, the kind of folks who weaved falsehoods into the very fabric of their lives until they wore their fictions like fine-knit sweaters, feeling safe and warm, wrapped in their bullshit. They were the challenge.

He didn’t yet know if Tom Bacon was his kind of liar. But the man was definitely hiding something.

Tom hadn’t invited him inside his French-styled starter castle, despite the unseasonably cold weather. Instead, the guy had greeted him on the driveway apron wearing a ski jacket. He’d carried a shovel in one gloved hand, a bucket of salt in the other, neither of which he’d set down for a handshake. Ryan had lingered at the curb after introductions, watching Tom spread ice
melt over slush, waiting for a welcome indoors while Mother Nature’s slick hand probed beneath the back vent in his pea coat.

Tom had asked about the death benefit as though it were a fait accompli, as though Ryan might have popped by to deliver a jackpot-sized certified check. No need for a discussion. Certainly no reason for Mr. Bacon to explain how his healthy, thirty-one-year-old wife had suffered a fatal accident on a cruise. Ryan had suggested that they’d both be more comfortable inside.

He stood in Tom’s kitchen, socked feet on the hardwood floor, looking for a suitable spot for an interrogation. A pair of extra-large packing boxes sat stacked atop a pedestal table, the side flaps of the top crate sticking straight up so that they touched the chandelier above. Printouts littered a massive marble island. Ryan recognized the Insurance Strategy and Investment policy among the documents, broken into sections with multicolored sticky notes. Someone was doing his homework.

Tom pulled a chrome barstool from beneath the island. He half-leaned onto the metal seat. The stance was faux relaxed, a staged paparazzo snapshot awaiting a caption.

Ryan walked toward the chairs, his gate slow and stiff. He hated his inability to move from point A to B without broadcasting his injury like a fouled basketball player. People didn’t limp without good reason, and at thirty-nine, he was too young for arthritis.

He placed a hand on the curved back of a stool and shifted his weight to his good leg. Bending the knee intensified the pain. Better to stand for this conversation anyway.



Ryan pointed to the kitchen table. “The boxes.”

“Oh. Maybe.”

Ryan couldn’t tell whether Tom was curt or distracted. People suffering the loss of an immediate family member sometimes lacked focus, as though their loved one’s death trapped them between this life and the next, unable to be present in either. But Tom didn’t seem grief-stricken. He’d even shaved. And in Ryan’s experience, a few months in, most guys resembled reality-show

People handle grief in awkward ways. Ryan reminded himself of this as he continued to assess Tom’s attitude. There’d been that lady last year who had giggled while bawling over her dead husband, as though she’d grasped some divine punch line in her spouse’s fatal car accident but still knew that the joke was on her.

“Where are you thinking of going?”

“Not sure. I’m more cleaning up.” Tom shrugged. “There are things I don’t need anymore.”

Ana’s things? The ghost of Mrs. Bacon called out from decorating details: dried lavender on the windowsill, a wall calendar with notes in a woman’s tight cursive, a kitchen towel draped over a faucet to display the phrase “Home is where Mom cleans.”

On television, Tom had promised to “never give up hope” that his wife was alive. Eighty days later and he was shipping his beloved’s belongings to long-term storage. Time didn’t take long to murder belief in miracles.

There was little chance of finding Ana Bacon alive. She’d disappeared in the open ocean—at night, no less. Odds of surviving a fall off a cruise ship stood at 21 percent. Those chances dropped to near zero if a rescue didn’t occur within twelve hours. There’d been one case of a guy surviving seventeen hours in the Gulf of Mexico after tumbling overboard, blackout drunk, but he’d been a young, ex-army paratrooper. And if Ana had washed ashore in the Bahamas after a day in the water, somebody would have reported her appearance. Her picture was all over the news.

Ryan cleared his throat. “Sorry about what happened.” He offered the platitude with legal precision. No mention of death or loss. Any confirmation on his part that a policyholder was deceased could be considered evidence that the company should start processing a claim.

“Thanks.” Tom’s tone was flat. He folded his arms across his chest. “So what’s the status of the benefit?”

“That’s what I’m here to discuss.”

He’d come specifically not to pay the benefit. Insurance Strategy and Investment hadn’t stayed in business for five generations by doling out multimillion-dollar settlements. The bosses wanted a ruthless investigation. Ana’s policy contained a so-called double indemnity clause, meaning it paid double if she perished from a sudden mishap—ten million, to be exact. And
the policy was still in the two-year contestability period, so suicide was not covered.

Ryan’s statistics-laden subconscious told him that Ana’s death was no accident. His intuition might also have fingered “the husband.” When a woman died violently, her intimate partner was the cause more than a third of the time. But Tom had a solid alibi. He’d been at the pool when his wife had gone overboard, and he’d been seen by a couple vacationers and a striking redhead. The woman had wallpapered the news with her guilty admission that she’d been chatting up a married man at the exact time that the guy’s wife had fallen overboard. Bad girl.

With Tom out of contention, the most probable culprit was Ana herself. But Ryan would need to prove it.

“As you can imagine, ISI has a certain due diligence process in cases without—”


Ryan turned to see a young girl enter the kitchen, a pretty kid with eyes befitting an anime character. He recalled the photos of Mrs. Bacon. The child took after her mother.

“Not now, Sophia.” Tom’s mouth pulled into a tight smile. “Daddy is talking.”

The child tilted her head like a confused puppy and considered Ryan. He gave a little wave. She stepped back into the adjoining room before returning her attention to her father. Ryan had never been good with kids.

“I want a snack,” she said.

“After I finish.”

The skin beneath the child’s eyes pinked to the color of a pinched cheek. Her bottom lip crumpled. “Where’s Mommy?”

Hadn’t Tom told her? Maybe she was too young to grasp the finality of death.

Tom rubbed his fingers into his forehead. He shot his kid an exasperated look before heading to an open door beside the stove and dipping inside. Items rustled. He reemerged with a package of peanut butter crackers and offered her the plastic pouch like a tissue.

Little hands curled into fists. “It’s not—”

“Sophia. Just take it. Daddy needs to talk right now.”

The girl’s mouth opened in a silent cry. She accepted the package, unsure of what to do next. Ryan recalled when Angie had been that young. Kids could break apart plastic dollhouses, demolish wooden furniture, and pop childproof caps, yet simple vacuum seals left them stymied.

“You need to open it for her.”

Tom lowered his head and pulled apart the plastic. Sophia’s face relaxed. “Okay? Please go watch your shows until I finish.”

The girl scurried from the room, her bare feet flashing beneath a long princess nightgown. It was past noon.

Tom raised his eyebrows in Ryan’s direction. “You were saying?”

“ISI has a review policy in cases without remains.”

“What’s to review?” Tom lowered his voice. “The court issued a death-in-
absentia declaration. That’s the same as a death certificate.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not.” Ryan scratched at the wavy hair hitting the nape of his neck. The move was a nervous habit and a tell of liars everywhere. Men clasped the back of the neck when stressed. Women tended to trace the suprasternal notch, that delicate triangle between the collarbones. Ryan wasn’t lying, but he did feel anxious. Since the incident with his leg, confrontation made him jittery.

Tom scratched at nonexistent stubble. “How is it different?”

“There’s no cause of death.”

“As I’m sure you know from all the media coverage, my wife drowned in the Atlantic. Her cause of death was well documented.”

The ship’s security cameras had caught Ana Bacon’s fall. She’d been filmed hurtling through the air, grasping a lifeboat for a moment, and then, ultimately, losing her hold and dropping into the ocean. Unfortunately for Mrs. Bacon, the cameras had not yet been upgraded with sensors capable of alerting the crew when a large object went overboard. And, unfortunately for
Mr. Bacon, a few seconds of fall footage wasn’t enough to prove the circumstances of his wife’s demise. A well-documented death needed a full timeline of the moments leading up to the last breath and the aftermath. It needed a body with a DNA-confirmed identity. Most importantly, it needed a coroner’s report with one of four words printed in the center: accidental,
homicide, suicide, or natural.

“Her disappearance has been established.”

“Like hell—” Tom raked his hand over his mouth, blocking the profanities that undoubtedly wanted to follow. “Let’s just cut the nonsense. My wife is dead and your company wants to stall payment for as long as possible.” He looked at the ceiling, as if imploring his dead wife to intercede. “I have a three-year-old who is never going to see her mother again.” He pointed to the ISI policy on the countertop. “I purchased this coverage to ensure that she would always be well taken care of, should anything happen to one of us. I already had to wait for the court to issue the absentia ruling.”

Ryan felt a rare twinge of guilt. Dependent beneficiaries were the worst part of the job. He tried not to think about them, to focus on the puzzle instead of the pieces. Find fraud. That was his job. Find the fraud.

Ryan recalled an omission from the Bacons’ application. Neither had listed current employers, though they had each included former jobs under recent work history. Normally, the lack of gainful employment would have been a red flag, but the actuarial models showed that people with seven-figure former paychecks paid their premiums. Lots of ex-traders lived off investments these days.

“Are you working?” Ryan asked.

“What has that got to do with anything?” Tom’s chin jutted out. His biceps twitched. The micromovements answered Ryan’s question. Tom wasn’t employed, at least not in any capacity that he could list on a tax return.

Money problems could lead to suicide. Ryan made a mental note to press for details later. Too many questions about the Bacons’ finances could encourage Tom to end their interview. “These are just standard questions.” Ryan gave Tom a beat to breathe. “What was your wife’s mood before she disappeared?”

Tom squinted at him. “Her mood?”

“Yes. How was she feeling?”

“We were on vacation.”

“Was she having a good time?”

“Sure.” A dark blush crept from Tom’s hairless neck into his cheeks. Ryan sensed he wouldn’t get too many more answers.

“Was there any reason she might have been feeling upset?”

“You mean, was she depressed and jumped, right?” Tom scowled. “It was an accident. I know you don’t want that answer, but that’s what happened. It was just a horrible accident.”

“So no reason she—”

Tom slapped the counter. “My wife was pregnant, God damn it, and she had Sophia. To suggest that she’d intentionally leave her family...”

Customer Reviews

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The Widower's Wife 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Clear your calendar before you start reading, hard to put down til you read the lasy chapter !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keeps you onthe edge
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept me turning the page. Fast read, kept pages turning. Entertaininh. Characters could have been developed more, but for a quick read it was pretty good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really kept me on the edge of my seat... a must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Well worth your time. Couldn't put it down!
Brodk More than 1 year ago
A very good book, but neither exactly a thriller or a mystery. The protagonist is an insurance investigator who had been injured in his previous employment as a policeman. He is tasked, basically, to find a reason to deny a widower his insurance payout. The man's wife went overboard during a cruise. The book alternates chapters between the investigator and the wife. There is little that is unexpected, but the conclusion is both satisfying and logical. I give it 3.5 stars. I found the writing a little stiff, and as usual, all the plot threads just don't completely make sense. Still, I found it an enjoyable book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Twists and turns and will keep you up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An easy read, wit enough plot twists to keep you interested.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Spoiler ahead, was enjoying the read, but the ending seemed really hurried and not flushed out. I realized that it was the end with five pages left (ebooks, eh) and couldn't believe they could pull it if. Liked it though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book, but I struggled through parts of it. I found the contents to be steady and written in an even pace, however there were times that it lacked to keep my interest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started out promising enough, but the further into the book I got, the more idiotic and implausible it got. All of the characters turned into to fools!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So good, I couldn't put it down!
tschnitzler More than 1 year ago
Wow.... I had to re-read the last chapters of this book because I had lost my way somehow. I love this ending, and I hope the conclusion I have in my head is what Cate Holahan intended for us to believe happened. Great read, and hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ryan Monahan is an ex-cop working as an insurance investigator checking on an insurance claim for the death of Ana Bacon, age 31. She reportedly fell off a cruise ship at night in the middle of the ocean and neither she nor her body has been found. The double indemnity policy on her is for $10 million. Ana was married to Tom, age 34, at the time of her death and the mother of a young daughter, Sophia. Ryan does not think that Ana’s death was suicide but he also realizes that there is not enough evidence to prove Ana’s death. Tom Bacon had lost his job as a well-paid stock trader due to a bad call. Something like this means he will probably never be able to work in the business again. Ana has had to get a job as an administrative assistant. However, the salary she is able to make will not cover the expenses of their lavish home and lifestyle. As Tom and Ana become more desperate for money, they devise an elaborate plan but not everything works as they had thought. The characters in this book are well written and the plot is brilliant. Be prepared for a story that will keep the reader turning pages and learning a lot at the same time.
LibbyMcKinmer More than 1 year ago
When insurance investigator Ryan Monahan opens an investigation into the death of Ana Bacon, who fell overboard, disappearing into the ocean during a cruise in the Bahamas, he has no idea where it will lead. It’s his job to see if there is a way for his company to deny the ten-million-dollar claim, but his investigation takes him in a direction he never expected. Ana and her husband Tom have had some problems in their marriage, as well as in their personal and professional lives. What secret is the widower Tom hiding? What secrets did Ana take over the side of the ship? I wasn’t sure what to expect from this thriller told from the alternating points of view of Ryan and Ana – investigator and victim. What I got was an addictive page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed. Ms. Holahan tells a compelling story and writes so you feel like you’re right there with the characters. I’m looking forward to her next novel! Five stars.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
Oh My… Cate Holahan did it again! This is the second book of hers that I have read and with both I have not been able to stop reading. The drama, the mystery, the relationships, and the who-dun-it were absolutely wonderful. The relationships between the characters were spot on. Perfectly realistic, perfectly scarey (sometimes), and just perfect all the way around. The drama and mystery was intriguing enough without going so far out of bounds that it seemed unreal. While reading sometimes a character just hits your heart. With The Widower’s Wife it was Sophia. Sophia is Anna and Tom’s young daughter. With every twist and turn I kept her in my thoughts wondering how this would affect her. Being young most of the things happened around her and without her knowledge yet somehow I knew some of the happenings would stick with her. I loved how Anna’s every action was to keep Sophia safe in a happy lifestyle. The Widower’s Wife is a fast paced thriller that definitely keeps the reader on their toes. The story is a twist on a familiar type of story. There is no question of who the bad guy is and even knowing this I could not put the book down. Pick up your own copy of The Widower’s Wife immediately. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.
Pure_Jonel More than 1 year ago
Holahan has definitely created a suspenseful and thrilling novel with this one. The solidly developed plot creates an enviable and unforgettable read that I found myself caught up in. The fantastic descriptions, with a hint of darkness, really set the tone for this tale. The well-researched background really sets the stage for this suspense that will keep you on your toes. The characters that Holahan develops are one of a kind and really fill the story well. I found myself really wanting to get to know them on a deeper level. The intricacies of the characters are unforgettable. This is a cast that you truly have to read about to get to know. Once again Holahan has created a one of a kind thriller that you won’t be able to forget. It’s a fantastic read for those looking for a truly suspenseful tale. Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
pet1210 More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for an engaging domestic suspense thriller with an inventive storyline, look no further. Tom and Anna Bacon have been accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, the grand mansion, the expensive cars, the wine collection. But now they are facing financial ruin. Tom is unemployed and drinking. Anna is trying to support the family as best she can with a job as an administrative assistant while remaining the main carer for their young daughter, Sophie. But it is hopeless. Foreclosure looms. Credit cards maxed out. The marital relationship strained due to all the pressure. Ryan Monahan is a former NYPD cop turned insurance investigator who is obsessed with statistics. He is asked to look into the death of Anna Bacon to determine whether her life insurance policy worth ten million dollars should be paid out to her husband Tom. Told in alternating chapters from Ryan's third-person point of view in the present and from Anna's first-person point of view in the days leading up to her fall off a cruise ship, The Widower's Wife was a real page-turner I devoured within a day. Author Cate Holahan took a slightly different approach here, which worked very well. I loved Ryan with his analytical mind, frequently quoting probabilities, determinedly wanting to uncover what happened to Anna while trying to get used to his own changed circumstances. A really exciting plot with intriguing characters and a unique story. The only reason I'm not giving this 5 stars is down to a couple of things that I found difficult to believe. I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.