“We are stuck with each other and with our left-over murder till death do us part. Death. Not his, but somebody else’s. Because we set death in motion, we geared ourselves for it, and we can’t stop it now, we’ve got to…”
Life with a domineering father hasn’t been easy for Lucy and Marcia Knapp. Dr. Knapp sabotages his daughters’ relationships, endlessly criticizes them, and expects them to wait on him hand and foot. At least, they think, they’ll always have a home with him. Then they overhear their father’s plans to marry his nurse (and give her the house), a disaster that can be averted only by his death. Their father simply has to die. But the two sisters will soon learn to be careful what they wish for.
When fate intervenes before they are able to carry out their plans, everything should be perfect. Marcia and Lucy get what they want, blamelessly. But somehow it doesn’t feel that way. Their “evil wish” of murder casts a long shadow that may end in an even darker crime.
The Evil Wish is a crime novel in the truest sense, less about the logistics of committing a murder than about the corrosive effects of allowing murder into one’s heart. The Knapps are essentially serving a life sentence for a crime that never took place. As Marcia points out:
We meant to do it. We planned to do it. That makes us guilty. We’re worse off than if we were murderers in fact, because it’s still there, bottled up inside us, and how can it ever get out? If we’d actually done it, we could confess and be done with it. But they don’t electrocute you, or even put you in prison, for thinking murder. It’s got to be with your hands or it doesn’t count.
Lucy and Marcia crossed a line by even contemplating a crime; over the course of the novel, each must deal with what she has learned about herself as a result.
Faded beauty Lucy has never had much of a life outside of the home. She appears to be the weaker, less intelligent sister, so obsessed with hiding their criminal plot that she is danger of creating suspicion where none existed. Marcia certainly considers herself stronger and more independent, Lucy’s self-appointed protector. However, she is also an emotionally unstable alcoholic. Ironically, without the bond of their father as a common enemy, the unhealthy dynamic between the two sisters deteriorates, especially when a man enters the picture.
None of the characters are especially sympathetic, yet the reader is so immersed in the inner worlds of Marcia and Lucy that their mindsets start to make a strange kind of sense. Their claustrophobic lives allow little room to really understand other people, and the mysterious new lodger Chuck functions primarily as a blank canvas for them to project their own feelings upon. Though Chuck fancies himself a smooth operator, he projects the air of “a jaunty, beginning-to-age actor cast in a youthful role.” He may have his own nefarious intentions, but the alternate reality that Lucy and Marcia construct around him could be far more dangerous.
A common trope of mystery novels is that killers must be caught because, having broken the taboo of murder, there’s no telling what they’ll do next. It’s less about the murder that’s already been committed than the prevention of future chaos. The Evil Wish is a masterful illustration of this concept, as the mere knowledge that they are capable of murder colors every aspect of the Knapp sisters’ existence, lending a guilty tension to every encounter. There are some slow moments early on, but that time devoted to character development pays off, building into an unbearably suspenseful second half where it truly seems that anything could happen.
Potts’ ingenuity lies in the exploration of evil deeds not carried out and the festering remains of criminality that never come to fruition. To say that the novel is merely about the guilty consciences of these two sisters is to undermine its complexity.
The Evil Wish is newly available in paperback from Stark House Press, in a double volume with Potts’ Go, Lovely Rose.