I picked up The No-Show because based on the blurb, I thought this would be some sort of feminist revenge fantasy. Said blurb:

Three women who seemingly have nothing in common find that they’re involved with the same man in this smart new rom-com by Beth O’Leary, bestselling author of The Flatshare.

Sadly this does not end in a sisterhood pact over this man’s grave.

Despite my wrong assumptions, I hoovered up this book in less than a day, sighing happily at 4 a.m. once I reached the HEA. Because yes, there’s a happy ending for most of the women dating Joseph Carter.

The No-Show starts with Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane being stood up on Valentine’s Day for breakfast, lunch, or dinner respectively. The three women are angry, worried, or unsurprised to be stood up, depending on their personal level of self-esteem and patience. When their boyfriend/fuckbuddy/date shows up the next day, frazzled and contrite, he manages to convince them to forgive him by spitting out a variety of excuses. But lingering questions remain for each of them, and the missed Valentine’s Day plants the seeds for a shift in Joseph’s relationships.

I would describe The No Show as a romantic whodunit. It’s a romance that feels like a mystery, where the puzzle is figuring out what the fuck is going on with all these relationships. The book sprinkles clues and misdirections as we piece together how each of the women met Joseph and how he’s managing this audacious juggling act. Joseph’s lovers are smart women, and they’re skeptical. As Joseph’s lies pile up, I kept wondering how and when he’d be found out. There’s some unexpected twists that I didn’t see coming that make all the threads feel satisfying in the end.

It’s difficult to describe the plot of this book without spoiling it. The story is told from the POV of the three women, so we only see Joseph through their perspective. Siobhan is an ambitious career coach in Dublin, who looks forward to monthly sex dates with Joseph and his magic tongue. She tries to remain guarded, but Joseph’s attentiveness gets under her skin.

Miranda is a badass tree surgeon in London, happiest when climbing a tree, and most annoyed while fending off compliments from her hot lumberjack coworker. She’s mildly amazed to have landed a steady boyfriend like Joseph, but knows he’s keeping secrets. Meanwhile, Jane is a fragile young woman with a mysterious past trauma who’s starting over in Winchester. She starts a book club with Joseph, and slowly develops a crush, but she’s not sure if he sees her as more than a friend.

I found myself frequently giggling at this book, and underlining my favorite phrases. There’s plenty of zingy dialogue and pithy noticings about social dynamics. Siobhan in particular is entertainingly self aware.

“…there’s a half-drunk double-shot oat-milk latte on the table in front of her. If she’d known she was going to be stood up on Valentine’s Day, she’d have got proper milk. Siobhan is only vegan when she’s in a good mood.”

O’Leary writes about women who are healing from abuse, both work and personal, exceptionally well. Each of the women resonated with me in how they exhibited a different common dynamic of the past couple of years—Siobhan’s overwork causes her to burnout, Jane is rebuilding her sense of self after a toxic work situation, and Miranda is learning to trust her strength and beauty, because she isn’t sure if she’s posh enough for Joseph. In each case, the women’s relationships with Joseph help them grow and heal, even if they don’t end up with him at the end. It might have been the mystery of how Joseph was going to get caught that kept me reading, but it was spending time with Siobhan, Miranda and Jane’s journey that made me enjoy the book along the way.

At first, I didn’t want to like Joseph because he felt like a combination of the leads from Sister Wives and Dexter, a charmingly manipulative man with his own moral code. As readers, we slowly unpeel the ways his life intersects with the three very different women. And the more I learned about Joseph, the more he wormed his way into my heart just like the heroines. Joseph works in IT in London, but spends most of his time in his hometown of Winchester. He’s a lovable nerd, who just happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, and takes care of his mom with dementia even though she can’t help calling his girlfriend by the wrong name.

I was fascinated by the way Joseph genuinely seems like the perfect boyfriend for each of these women. He remembers a favorite brand of massage oil, and the way one likes her pancakes. He checks out the perfect book from the library, and pitches in to help Miranda trim a tree. He loves their imperfections, and reminds them of their talents. He’s a chameleon who fits into their lives neatly, trying to give them exactly what they want. Initially, he doesn’t appear to have an agenda beyond taking care of the women in his life. Still himself, more at home in a suit than a hoodie, but just a little more the version you need him to be. It seemed exhausting, which is part of what makes him sympathetic. I felt compelled to keep reading in order to piece together why Joseph was dating each of them.

Like Joseph, The No-Show has a tendency to spread itself too thin. There are quite a few characters across three cities, and I didn’t feel like I got to sink into their lives completely. Someone would reference a family drama, but we wouldn’t see them resolve it. Another character would introduce her closest friends, and then we’d never see them again, only hearing about a tragic event around them mentioned in passing. Miranda, Siobhan and Jane’s family and colleagues were comical and opinionated, but with four main characters to keep up with, the others faded into the background. I would have loved to spend more time with Jane’s 70-something gay friends, who were figuring out how to come out to their one living parent, and Miranda’s snarky twin sisters/roommates felt like they needed their own book. This shallowness is particularly frustrating for one of the women’s love interests, who spends too much time being annoying. That character failed to recalibrate fast enough for me to find their HEA satisfying. As a romance fan, I was also disappointed that Joseph didn’t do more groveling at the end. My grovel-o-meter wasn’t quite satisfied, despite his obvious pain.

I do want to add a spoiler so readers go into this book fully aware of one key point. This information is going behind spoiler tags so please note it is a Major Spoiler, but I’m keeping the specifics somewhat vague.

SPOILERS INSIDE.

Without giving away the major twist of the book and ruining the whole reader experience, I think it’s important that readers know that only 2 of the 3 women get a romance HEA.

EVEN BIGGER SPOILER HERE WITH SPECIFICS – highlight to read!

One of the MC dies, and the reader is in her POV when it happens. It’s not explicit or gory, but it was shocking, and I want to warn readers who would find this part upsetting.

I Ioved how The No-Show kept me guessing. The story sucked me in with its complicated layers and kept me wondering whether one woman needed Joseph in her life a bit more than the rest. The No-Show may appeal to readers who like relationship-driven fiction with laughs, angst, tension, and tragedy. I gave up mysteries during the pandemic, but the book reminded me of how fun they can be. Just be prepared to join the Bad Decisions Book Club.

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