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The Outreach Committee: Because Marriage Can Be Murder Paperback – November 21, 2014
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From Kirkus Reviews
Woodhams (Sweet Justice, 2002) delivers a comeuppance to abusive husbands in this thriller. Mora Rey’s husband, Sherman, is a despicable boor. “You’re a gutless female, Mora,” he snarls when his wife wants to stop skiing because of an approaching storm. So it comes as a relief when he almost immediately dies in that same weather event. Flash-forward a couple of years to Mora sitting by the hospital bed of her friend Helen, the victim of a savage beating delivered by her own husband. After her death, Mora vows to make up for not protecting her friend. She serves on the board of the Battered Women’s Escape Foundation and heads the Outreach Committee with other victims of abuse. Carol’s and Erin’s husbands died in convenient “accidents” that weren’t so accidental. Instead of a first wives’ club, this is a widows’ club, and their mission is to liberate other women from abusive relationships. When wealthy women cannot escape from their well-connected husbands, the Outreach Committee engineers their husbands’ deaths in ways made to look like accidents. The philandering, foulmouthed Marshall is next on their hit list. The committee doesn’t realize that the attempted murder has gone awry, though; after his rafting accident, Marshall wakes up with amnesia in a nearby hospital. Then the women discover that their financial officer, Quentin Pryor, is abusing his wife, Leigh. After taking action, they become embroiled in a murder investigation. The novel’s attempt to raise awareness of domestic violence is admirable. Woodhams clearly sympathizes with abused women, particularly when it seems as if all the cards are stacked against them. The novel overflows with facts about abuse, although the act of inserting statistics into the text, as when Mora thinks, “In California alone, a little over one percent of children are abused,” seems stilted. There isn’t much subtlety to this story; the male characters are almost all abusers who are unrepentant and irredeemable. A lighter touch overall might have been more effective and more entertaining. A heavy-handed message weighs down this crime caper.
THE OUTREACH COMMITTEE solves the problem of domestic abuse with a simple concept: remove the abuser. The Committee is actually a small group of women within a more charitable group known as BWEF, the Battered Women’s Escape Foundation. Mora Rey founded the group after her close friend died after a severe beating from her spouse. Since that fateful day, Rey seeks out and recruits other battered women. The Outreach Committee will help remove the spouse by a “courtesy accident.” After the accident, the woman joins the group and helps the next woman. Rey and the women of BWEF find smooth sailing until one husband survives his accident, but awakens with no memory. In addition, a powerful banking executive is assigned to the BWEF’s board. His wife, also a battered woman, soon garners the attention of the Outreach Committee. While the amnesiac husband recovers, the banking executive suffers a fatal accident. An accident that the authorities realized may just be murder, leading the Outreach Committee into danger.
Red City Review - The Outreach Committee: Because Marriage Can Be Murder is a gripping tale that will make you think long and hard about the morals, values, and consequences of domestic violence. C.L. Woodhams grabs you not by the arm but by the heart from the first few pages as she immerses you into Mora Rey’s fearful experience that leads her to relief and hope. However, this experience also leads her to murder. As Mora chooses to help other women and victims of domestic abuse, she makes some shocking choices... C.L. Woodhams shares a variety of perspectives and experiences [that] help a reader explore the thoughts and feelings of abusers as well as the women, whom they supposedly love. A very well-written novel, The Outreach Committee hits home and easily pulls back the curtains of what might actually happen in abusive situations of wealthier men and women. Most people know someone who has been, or is being abused, whether or not the truth is out in the open. Woodhams’ book offers a profound opportunity to understand the psychology of both sides even better while making a reader ponder what justice might really look like.
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As a male, one comment I have is that none of the abused characters is a man. As a listener for a crisis hotline and an observer of humanity, I can say that there are abused men as well as women.
In the end notes the author states, "One in three women, regardless of economic level, will be abused in her lifetime." Statements like this, written without context or any references to studies made on the subject, are inflammatory without being helpful, and tend to trivialize the subject matter. Since I have known very few abusive males, if I were not fairly knowledgeable on the subject of abuse, this statement might make me tend to discount everything the author has said.
Another subject that isn't covered is why some women won't submit to abuse. They walk away from a relationship as soon as danger signs start to occur, rather than try to excuse the man or accept the blame for his actions. This would seem to be a fertile area for research.