“Verity” opens with a skull cracking against the road: A distracted pedestrian has been hit by a truck on a busy New York City street, leaving our protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh, splattered with blood. That’s a dark introduction to Hoover’s best-selling thriller — which is a striking departure from the romance novels she’s known for, like “It Ends with Us” and “All Your Perfects.” But compared to the rest of the book, this fatality is downright rosy.
After the street accident, a handsome man named Jeremy ushers Lowen into a coffee-shop bathroom and offers her the clean shirt off his back. We see him again moments later at the meeting Lowen, a writer, is attending at her publisher’s office. Lowen is shy and doesn’t do publicity or engage with her fans. Yet she’s being presented with a lucrative opportunity — a well-timed one, given that she’s about to be evicted from her apartment. A famous author named Verity is medically unable to fulfill her contract and complete her series of thrillers — creepy novels told from the villains’ point of view. Jeremy, who is Verity’s husband, and the publishing house are willing to pay an absurd amount of money for Lowen to finish the series.
As Lowen is weighing the offer, she and Jeremy talk privately — and it’s clear they have an instant connection. Both are consumed with loss: Lowen’s mother just died, and Jeremy’s twin daughters recently perished in separate accidents, after which his wife was badly injured. Lowen is so drawn to Jeremy that she agrees to take on Verity’s series — and heads to the couple’s Vermont home to begin sorting through paperwork that might prove useful.
At the house, Lowen learns Verity is bedridden and mute: Her eyes are vacant; she’s unaware of the nurse tending to her: “She blinks, but there’s nothing there.” Lowen soon gets to know the woman in a more intimate way than expected. She stumbles upon a draft of Verity’s autobiography, which reveals — well, that the woman is as disturbed as her fictional characters. The early chapters focus on Verity’s pregnancy, which she attempted to abort with a hanger, and a deep hatred for the twin daughters Jeremy loved more than his wife.
During the coming days — that turn into weeks — Lowen juggles a flirtation with Jeremy with reading chapters of Verity’s manuscript, which are presented in full. They’re terrifying. In one chapter, Verity attempts to choke the daughter she likes the least, Harper. When her favorite daughter, Chastin, dies of an allergic reaction, Verity is convinced that Harper was responsible. She’s also not overly upset. “I missed Chastin, obviously … But there was something unpleasant in how hard Jeremy took it,” she writes in her autobiography. “He was devastated … I was growing impatient.”
Back in the present day, weird things keep happening: Jeremy’s son, Crew, waves to his supposedly comatose mother in the window — suggesting she was looking out at him. Lowen thinks she sees Verity at the top of the stairs, and Crew casually mentions talking to his mother, leading Lowen to question if Verity is really as injured as everyone believes. (Clearly, she’s not.)
Still, for inexplicable reasons, Lowen remains in the Vermont home. Sure, she’s crushing on Jeremy, but this is utterly foolish. High-tail it out of there and invite him to visit you in New York, Lowen! No good-looking face is worth sleeping in a potential psychopath’s home. Naturally, things only get worse: Lowen reads the final chapter of Verity’s manuscript, in which she describes intentionally dumping her remaining daughter in a lake to drown. When Lowen forces Jeremy to read this chapter, he loses it — and confronts Verity, who reveals that she’s not brain-damaged, after all. “I’ll explain everything,” she begs a rabid Jeremy. Within minutes, she’s dead. Lowen coached Jeremy how to kill her so that it would look like she choked on her own vomit.
That’s a lot to take in, but the pace of the novel only quickens. Fast-forward seven months, and Verity’s killers — Jeremy and Lowen — are living happily ever after, about to welcome a baby girl. The duo make one final trip to Vermont to clean out the old house. While there, Lowen discovers a letter hidden under the floorboards of Verity’s bedroom, addressed to Jeremy. Fearfully, she starts to read.
If we’re to believe the letter, Verity’s autobiography was a lie — a writing exercise that helped her cope with unbearable grief. Her editor introduced her to a technique called “antagonistic journaling,” which would help her get in the mind of evil characters by writing journal entries about her own life, but making the inner dialogue opposite what she had really experienced. “It was never meant for anyone to read and believe. It was an exercise … A way to tap into the dark grief that was eating at me,” she writes.
Apparently, Jeremy had already found the manuscript — and in a blind rage, packed Verity into their car, drove her into a tree and left her for dead. Except the plan didn’t work, and she survived. Verity pretended to be comatose to buy herself time before she was able to run away in the middle of the night with the couple’s son. “I don’t blame you for what you’ve done to me,” she writes. “You were a wonderful husband until you couldn’t be. And you were the best father in the world.”
I’ll give you a moment to gather yourself.
It’s perhaps the most chilling twist I’ve ever read in a novel. One cannot sleep after reading “Verity,” and I spent hours awake in the dark trying to sort out the ending. Who is the real Verity? Did she intentionally kill her daughter? Was she a murderous psychopath — or simply a writer trying to process her grief in an unorthodox way?
Both options are plausible. If Verity was sinister enough to commit the acts she described in her manuscript, it would be natural for her to find a way to explain it all away to Jeremy. That’s what plotting, evil people do — and she was clearly a clever woman with a flair for inventing stories. Her letter to Jeremy could easily have been a last-ditch farce to attempt to redeem herself, especially if she thought her son would be the one to find it. (The letter was hidden in a spot that only he knew about.)
Regardless of whether the manuscript was autobiographical or not, I’m certain that Verity was not a stable person: I can’t fathom being able to write such horrible, sickening stories about my family — not even in the interest of bettering my writing skills. The other thing I’m sure about is that everyone in the book is terrible — and I would have eagerly forgotten these characters immediately, except I couldn’t stop turning the ending over in my head. “Verity” delivers the grand slam of thriller twists — the holy grail of “what the…?!” moments. I didn’t like it, but it lit up my brain, and that’s got to count for something.
If I can just get past my need for resolution, perhaps I’ll accept that my streak as a thriller chronic has finally ended.
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