Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

A Circle of Wives

by Alice LaPlante

From the New York Times bestselling author of Turn of Mind comes a new psychological thriller that delves into the secret polygamous family life of a prominent doctor who managed to pull off the perfect lie—until he turned up dead.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 328
  • Publication Date January 06, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2292-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

Alice LaPlante’s bestselling debut novel Turn of Mind garnered universal critical acclaim and awards as a tour de force that delivered the suspense of a thriller and the resonance of a literary family drama. In A Circle of Wives, LaPlante returns with a scandalous and spellbinding story of marital deception, revenge, and murder.

When Dr. John Taylor is found dead in a hotel room in his own hometown, the local police find enough incriminating evidence to suspect foul play. Detective Samantha Adams, whose posh Palo Alto beat usually covers small-town crimes, is innocently thrown into a high-profile murder case that is more intricately intertwined than she could ever imagine. A renowned plastic surgeon, a respected family man, and an active community spokesman, Dr. Taylor was well loved and admired. But, hidden from the public eye, he led a secret life—in fact, multiple lives. A closeted polygamist, Dr. Taylor was married to three very different women in three separate cities. And when these three unsuspecting women show up at his funeral, suspicions run high. Detective Adams soon finds herself tracking down a murderer through a deceitful web of lies, marital discord, and broken dreams.

With a rare combination of gripping storytelling, vivid prose, and remarkable insight into character, Alice LaPlante brings to life a story of passion and obsession that will haunt readers long after they turn the final page. A charged, provocative, and surprising psychological thriller, A Circle of Wives dissects the dynamics of love and marriage, trust and jealousy, and poses the terrifying question: How well do you really know your spouse?

Tags Literary


“Marriage is as mysterious as murder in LaPlante’s captivating psychological thriller . . . a smart, intricate tale about murder and the elusive mysteries of marriage. . . . In LaPlante’s world knowing who did the deed is never as fascinating as wondering why.” —People (3.5 stars)

“The pleasures of this novel—as with LaPlante’s last, Turn of Mind—lie less in the plot, which is strewn with only a few clues and red herrings, and more in the sharply drawn and carefully shaded characters. A-” —Entertainment Weekly

“A suspenseful, thrilling read but also one that explores the complications of human relationships with grace and understanding. In her darkly funny, lushly drawn mystery, LaPlante offers readers her own revelations about love, loss, and the complicated compulsions that draw us together.” —Royal Young, Interview

“I finished reading this absorbing novel after 11 last night. That’s the mark of a successful mystery.” —Carolyn See, Washington Post

“Love is a mystery in this clever whodunit about marriage, passion and deception. . . .Sharply written and observant.” —Family Circle

“Exhilarating and smart, A Circle of Wives is a wild ride of love, loss, marriage and murder, with a finale that’s provocative, thrilling and grand. It all shows that while some deaths are a mystery, so, too, are some loves.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Surprising, swift and sure-footed. . . . [LaPlante] has taken an intriguing premise and, having hooked the reader, delivers an equally intriguing book.” —Seattle Times

“Insightful . . . [An] engrossing tale of tangled relationships, unfilled needs, and the endless human talent for self-deception. The question it plants in the reader’s mind is the most chilling of all: How well do I know the person I love?” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Daly’s affinity for psychological intrigue shines . . . [she] has penned a superbly sinister plot full of believable twists. It will have readers wondering just how well they know their friends, and how secure their lives are.” —Mystery Scene

“LaPlante’s engrossing second thriller . . . explores love, loss, control, the influence of past relationships, and passion. . . . Captivating.” —Publishers Weekly

“A page-turner that also offers much ironic commentary on the dynamics of love and marriage, emphasizing the great mystery at the heart of any romantic relationship.” —Booklist

“In this literary character study built on a mystery’s framework, LaPlante ingeniously constructs characters distinct and original.” —Kirkus Reviews


An Indie Next Pick for March 2014
A March LibraryReads Selection
An Amazon Best Book of the Month in Mysteries & Thrillers (March 2014)


It’s not every day that you attend the funeral of your husband as organized by his other wife. Or, rather, the funeral of the man you’ve been calling husband for six months. Who was John Taylor? I no longer have a clue.

John’s obituary hadn’t mentioned a wake, or “showing,” just a time and date for the funeral service: 10 am, Tuesday, May 14, 2012, Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford University. As you would expect for a successful professional, a prominent member of his community, the turnout is impressive. A large throng is milling around the church entrance, and the atmosphere almost festive, people shaking hands and hugging and chatting. If not for the preponderance of black you might mistake the gathering for a wedding or christening.

It has been four days of shocks. Multiple shocks, one after the other. That first bewildering call from my friend Annie at Stanford, on Saturday, followed by her email containing the link to the news article in the campus paper. And of course, denial kicked in immediately after I read it. No. No. Not my John. Not my Dr. John Taylor.

Reading Group Guide

1. The book is narrated by four different characters: Detective Samantha Adams and Dr. Taylor’s three wives: Helen, MJ, and Deborah. How does this structure provide a more well-rounded understanding of each character? Which of these characters voices do you connect with most? Why?

2. Detective Samantha Adams’s first lines in the book are: “I am nothing if not irresolute. Excuse the double negative” (p. 1). What do these opening lines tell us about her character? Discuss how this introduction fits with the stereotype of a police detective.

3. Dr. Taylor’s second wife, MJ, is introduced at his funeral mass. What do we initially learn about MJ’s character? Consider how this chapter foreshadows what we ultimately discover about MJ and her path in the book.

4. Dr. Taylor’s third wife, Helen, tells MJ and Deborah that they are “a circle of wives” (p. 33). Why does she use this turn of phrase? Is it accurate? What meanings does this phrase have in addition to its literal one? Discuss the contributions that each wife makes to the “circle.”

5. Detective Adams interviews MJ, Helen, and Deborah in back-to-back chapters. What are the similarities and differences in how each wife responds to learning that her husband was married to two other women? What clues are revealed about each wife’s potential guilt or innocence in their interviews?

6. Helen opens up to a woman she thinks is a neighbor before realizing the woman is a reporter. Then Helen muses on whether modern psychiatry will develop medication to help keep a person’s guard up. “The world will be a healthier place. But even so, despite all that’s happened, I think it will be a far less interesting one” (p. 82). What does she mean by this statement? Discuss whether or not talking to the reporter is cathartic for her. Does she feel more can be gained in her life by letting her guard down, even if the consequences are messy?

7. Samantha’s relationship with her boyfriend, Peter, deteriorates throughout the book. On page 87, Samantha says, “Something about the Taylor case and its web of love and deceit is souring what used to sustain me.” Discuss how the case causes growing dissatisfaction with her relationship. Is she dissatisfied with Peter, herself, or both?

8. On page 95, MJ notes that Samantha is “very professional” despite her pigtails, which MJ had never seen a grown woman wear. Yet when Samantha interviews Helen on page 100, Helen observes that Samantha “seems more nervous than [me],” and notes the “multiple piercings up the sides of both [her] ears” as well as “the remnants of a nose piercing.” What is revealed by these observations about Samantha? Are these observations indicative of MJ and Helen’s values, of Samantha’s personality, or both?

9. Deborah reveals a brief flirtation with a man named Gerald early on in her marriage with John. Gerald, who had a “streak of cruelty,” told her about his recurring temptation to stop the heart of a patient while conducting an operation just because he could. To Deborah this made him “a much more admirable man” than her husband (p. 105). Deborah then reveals that Gerald and his wife were killed when his car crossed over the road’s center line. Deborah says, “Death. Always interrupting things” (p. 106). Does Deborah assume that Gerald’s deadly impulses finally got the better of him? Were Deborah and Gerald a better match for each other? Discuss what else has been interrupted in Deborah’s life by death.

10. MJ reveals that she has a close relationship with her brother Thomas. “[H]e’s my baby brother, and I love him dearly. I would do anything for him, and he knows it” (p. 112). Talk about how MJ’s relationship with her brother compare and contrast with Samantha’s feelings for her deceased brother. How do these relationships inform our understanding of their personalities?

11. When Deborah learns of John’s relationship with MJ, she drives to MJ’s house and, due to stress, vomits outside. MJ comforts Deborah and offers her a glass of water. Deborah drives away because she doesn’t want to be indebted to MJ, and she is incapable of giving/receiving genuine acts of kindness. Later, she says that MJ “saved” her marriage. According to her own belief system, she now owes MJ, and this debt “is not a trivial one” (p. 121). Do you think Deborah’s belief system makes sense, or is it contradictory?

12. Helen discovers she’s pregnant with John’s baby and decides to keep it. She feels guilty for this decision because “if John had lived, this child would not have. It was in our agreement: no children” (p. 154). Why did she decide to keep the baby after John’s death, despite their agreement? What does this decision suggest about their relationship?

13. Samantha asks Peter to role-play as Deborah to prepare for interviewing her. The interview turns cruel as Peter uses the exercise as a way to indirectly express his true feelings about her. Discuss the significance of this role-play. Why does it sting her so much? Examine how this scene foreshadows later events with both Peter and Deborah.

14. As Samantha enters Deborah’s house, she says, “I see a world that will always be out of my reach” and she becomes inexplicably furious (p. 159). In the next chapter, Deborah says that Samantha hungers not for things, “but rather for beauty” (p. 165). Is Deborah correct in her assessment of Samantha? Why or why not? How does Samantha’s fight with Peter from the night before impact her behavior around Deborah?

15. Deborah believes that John’s three wives “added up to the perfect marriage, and he needed all of us in order to have a balanced life” (p. 169). Does she really mean this? Discuss whether or not Deborah is a reliable narrator.

16. Samantha learns that Dr. Taylor had planned to divorce his other three wives and marry Dr. Claire Fanning. Samantha admits that she can’t figure out Claire’s motivation in marrying a man nearly forty years her senior. “I find I’m disappointed by John’s choice. . . . I’ve built an impression of John Taylor, I realize, and it doesn’t have anything to do with marrying young china dolls less than half his age” (p. 208). Why is Samantha disappointed in this revelation? Consider how her “relationship” with Dr. Taylor has evolved since the case began. Has Dr. Taylor “seduced” Samantha?

17. Grady tells Samantha to “ignore the alibis” in trying to figure out Dr. Taylor’s murderer (p. 221). Do you think this is sound advice? Who appears to be the culprit at this point in the book?

18) Samantha confronts MJ with the news that MJ had a strong motive to murder Dr. Taylor, as she would have lost her house. “I see now,” Samantha says, “that any warmth I felt toward MJ was just stupid me wanting to be liked. We are opponents, have been from the start” (p. 229). Why does this news shock Samantha? Has Samantha’s need to be liked impacted her ability to do her job effectively?

19. Samantha feels that her relationship with Peter lacks passion. In their final argument, Peter tells Samantha, “What you don’t understand is that we’ve got what people hope to have after the passion and initial excitement have burned out. We’re best friends” (p. 241). Has Peter misjudged his relationship with Samantha? Do you think Samantha and Peter act like best friends? Consider whether or not passion and friendship are mutually exclusive in a relationship.

20. Samantha acknowledges that Peter is a “sweet man” but that he pales in comparison with John Taylor. She says that Peter “lacks the backbone to forge his way in this world and get what he wants” (p. 254). Discuss how Dr. Taylor represents passion to Samantha. Do you see evidence of Dr. Taylor’s passion toward any of his three wives? Does Samantha esteem the idea of passion to the point that she can excuse bigamy?

21. Deborah’s initial reaction to hearing about Helen’s pregnancy is violent. When she flies to Los Angeles to confront Helen about her unborn child, she learns Helen wants no claim to her estate. Deborah calms down, treating Helen in an almost maternal manner. Why the sudden change in her demeanor? Is it solely related to finances, or does Deborah feel a kinship with Helen that she doesn’t feel with MJ?

22. Helen offers Deborah a place to stay in her apartment, then opens up to Deborah about how she met Dr. Taylor. Are these gestures in line with Helen’s character, or do they reflect a genuine reevaluation of her personality in the wake of her pregnancy and Dr. Taylor’s death?

23. Why does Deborah indulge Samantha’s reenactment of Dr. Taylor’s final moments? Is she paying off a debt she feels she owes Samantha? What is Deborah’s quid pro quo in this scene?

24. Consider whether or not Samantha becomes part of Dr. Taylor’s circle of wives. Why or why not?

25. The “Rashomon effect” occurs when multiple speakers narrate a similar event in a contradictory way. How does the structure of A Circle of Wives affect our understanding of Dr. Taylor’s character? Knowing the outcome of the novel, discuss who was the most reliable and the least reliable narrator.

>b?Suggestions for further reading:

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; Every Last One by Anna Quindlen; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Author Q&A

Q: On the surface, your first book, Turn of Mind, which examines the interior of the mind, seems very different from A Circle of Wives. But in both books you use the framework of a mystery to explore the characters’ psychology. What made you want to write another book in this style?

A: I enjoy the pacing and structure of mysteries/thrillers, but my heart is in the characterizations. I couldn’t write a more conventional detective novel—my mind just doesn’t work that way. Instead of whodunit, I’m much more interested in whydunit. Flannery O’Connor wrote in Mystery and Manners something to the effect that as writers we want to transfer our attention from the external mystery to the internal ones. That’s what I’ve tried to do with both Turn of Mind and A Circle of Wives.

Q: You create four very distinct female characters in A Circle of Wives: Detective Samantha Adams and Deborah, MJ, and Helen (Dr. Taylor’s three wives). Is there a particular character that you closely relate to, and is there one that pushes your buttons?

A: I don’t know about relate to, but I found myself liking two of the characters in particular very much: Sam, the young detective, and Helen, the third wife. I liked Sam because she has a wry, self-deprecating way about her that makes her seem both tough and vulnerable. She’s very honest and I think quite emotionally intelligent. Helen I like because she’s achieved so much at a relatively young age yet hasn’t let it go to her ego. She’s truly fascinated by her work and, despite her own characterizations of herself as being on the clinical side, has a big heart.

Q: In this book you explore the nature of marriage. Why did you choose to focus on that relationship?

A: It was just in the nature of the situation I chose to write about—a doctor who is found to have three concurrent wives. That intrigued me. Why would he do such a thing? Why would the women put up with the diminished relationship they would inevitably have in such a situation? Even if they didn’t know the reason that their “husband” was so unavailable, the fact would be that he was unavailable, both emotionally and physically. I was interested in exploring all this, specifically from the points of view of the women. Marriage has always fascinated me—such a mysterious relationship, and never obvious from outside the institution what keeps two people together or breaks them apart.

Q: Even after his death, Dr. John Taylor exerts a powerful hold over the women he was married to, and even over the detective investigating his murder. What makes him so magnetic to these women?

A: I think he was genuinely attractive to women because he truly saw them. He looked deeply into the women he chose to have relationships with, saw their strengths and weaknesses, and, I believe, accepted them for who they were. That he was able to do so with such different women was to me the really interesting part—each of them gave him something special that he couldn’t get anywhere else.

Q: What were each of these women seeking in their marriage to Dr. Taylor, and were they ultimately fulfilled?

A: I think that Deborah was seeking status and security; MJ, an emotionally safe haven from a rather rough life; and Helen, passion for the first time in her life. Except for MJ, I think they did get what they wanted out of their relationships with John Taylor. MJ was perhaps the worst betrayed, in my opinion.

Q: Did your perspective on marriage and the expectations, hopes, and passions attached to it change throughout the writing of this novel?

A: It’s funny, but writing books always changes your opinion about what you’re writing about! It was that way with Turn of Mind, and it was that way with A Circle of Wives. I think before I wrote it, I would have been more inclined to judge a man like John Taylor harshly for his deceptiveness. Now I see that he brought real happiness to each of the women in his (busy) life. He wasn’t a monster . . . just had unconventional ways of having his needs met.