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Rock Paper Scissors

By Alice Feeney



Book review and synopsis for Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney, a twisty domestic thriller set in an old chapel in Scotland.

Synopsis

In Rock Paper Scissors, Adam and Amelia Wright are a couple, and they're nearing yet another anniversary. However, their marriage is struggling.

As a last-ditch attempt to save it, they embark on a getaway to Scotland after winning the trip in a work raffle, and they end up in a secluded old chapel in the woods. With both of them harbor deep resentment and tantalizing secrets, all will soon be revealed in this exciting and suspenseful domestic thriller.

(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)

Detailed Plot Summary

Section-by-Section Summary
See the Section-by-Section Summary of Rock Paper Scissors
Quick Plot Summary

The two-paragraph version: Amelia and Adam are on a getaway, staying at an old chapel. There's also a woman named Robin living in a cottage nearby. Adam is a screenwriter who is known for adapting the novels of a writer named Henry Winter. He has reoccuring nightmares about his mother being killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was 13. At the chapel, Amelia and Adam find there are strange occurrences (thanks mostly to Robin) and power outages. Meanwhile, interspersed throughout the book are letters addressed to Adam (but never sent) each year on their anniversary detailing their relationship history. The letters culminate in describing how Adam cheated on her with her best friend from work. Later, in a big plot twist, we learn that Robin is actually Adam's first wife (all the letters are written by her, not Amelia). Amelia was the friend that Adam cheated with. He and Amelia married right after the divorce.

In another plot twist, it turns out the chapel belongs to Henry Winter, who is Robin's father. He and Robin had a bad relationship since he was a bully, but she asked him to let Adam adapt his novels. The letters further reveal that Robin has since learned that Amelia was the one in the car that killed Adam's mother. In present day, Robin reveals this information to Adam. It results in a scuffle where Amelia is (presumably) killed. Robin and Adam end up getting back together. (Adam's narration reveals that Amelia had been his girlfriend as a teenager, which is probably why she sought him out later. Adam was the one driving the car that killed his mother. Amelia had merely been in the car with him). The book ends by casting doubt on whether Robin's description of her relationship with her father was accurate (or whether it was the product of an overactive imagination) and it leaves open the possibility that some of the strange occurrences in the house were ghostly in nature.


Amelia and Adam Wright are a couple going through a rough patch in their marriage. Along with their dog Bob, they are on their way to Scotland for a getaway that Amelia won in a raffle at work. Their marriage counselor suggested they use the trip to try to save their marriage. Adam has a disorder called prosopagnosia where he's unable to recognize distinguishing features of people, so he can't recognize faces (including Amelia's).

Adam is a Hollywood screenwriter, known for adapting the works of Henry Winter, his favorite author. The one screenplay he's written that he's always wanted to see become a movie is his first one, entitled Rock Paper Scissors. It's a twisted love story about a man who writes letters to his wife each year on their anniversary.

Interspersed throughout the book are letters written to Adam (but were never set) each year on their anniversary, inspired by Adam's screenplay. The first letters describe how Adam gifted her with Bob when he initially proposed over 10 years ago. Then, on their first anniversary, she had suggested that Adam reach out to Henry Winter about adapting one of Winter's works after his agent had passed away (before the answer had always been no). It resulted in Adam's first Henry Winter adaptation. In the letter, she writes about how Adam doesn't know the role she played in getting Henry Winter to agree to it. By their second anniversary, things are going better for them financially due to the Henry Winter adaption, but it comes at a cost to their relationship because Adam is working so much more.

In present day, they arrive at the place they're staying at, an isolated old church called Blackwater Chapel. The place is dusty and creepy, and there are power outages frequently due to the snowstorms in the area. Amelia thinks she hears someone whispering her name when she's in the crypt. Their night is interrupted when Amelia screams after seeing someone's face in the window. Unbeknownst to them, person peeking in was Robin, a woman who lives in a shabby cottage nearby. Later that night, when Adam and Amelia are up at the bell tower, Adam is almost knocked off when a cloud of bats comes flying out of the bell. Amelia pauses for the moment, apparently paralyzed in fear, but then she saves him. However, Adam tells himself that Amelia considered letting him die for a moment.

That night, Adam has a nightmare that he's had similar versions of many times before. In this version, Amelia is driving when she hits a woman in a red kimono. The nightmare is based on his memory of his mother who was killed in a hit-and-run accident. She had been wearing a red kimono at the time.

Then, as Amelia sleeps, Adam goes downstairs. He has turns off the generator on purpose, but lets Amelia believe that it's a power outage. He thinks about how jealous and suspicious Amelia is all the time and feels frustrated. He knows that he has cheated before, but so has Amelia.

In flashbacks told through the letters, the letters talk about how by their third anniversary, Adam's work has increasingly strained their marriage, with Adam penning more Henry Winter adaptations. Adam also jumps at any opportunity to spend time with Henry, even when it means cancelling on plans. They're also having trouble conceiving. When there starts to be interest in finally turning Rock Paper Scissors into a movie, that becomes Adam's first priority. There's a brief issue with jealousy over Adam spending time with the beautiful lead actress, October O'Brien, but that is resolved. Eventually, however, the project gets shelved after October commits suicide.

In present day, with the power out and the trip going poorly in general, they decide to leave the next morning. Unknown to them, Robin has been sneaking around the chapel. She has overheard them saying they were planning on leaving, but knows she won't let that happen. The next morning, Amelia and Adam get ready to go only to find that Bob is missing and their tires have been slashed. As they look for Bob, they find Robin's cabin. They try knocking but she doesn't answer. Adam gets a glimpse of her inside, but she quickly shuts all the curtains.

Back at the chapel, Adam and Amelia find a brochure talking about how Blackwater Chapel used to be used as a prison for people being accused of witchcraft and how there are still rumors about ghosts. Then, they find a secret room, which Adam recognizes. He realizes that he saw a picture of Henry Winter there once -- this room is his study and this property belongs to Henry. Adam has been out of touch with Henry lately. Adam told him he was going to work on his own stuff instead of adapting more of Henry's books and never heard from him again. Then, outside they find Henry's gravestone. It shows that he's been dead since 2018 -- two years ago.

Switching to Robin's point-of-view, she narrates that Henry is her father and reached out to her before he died. Robin says that Henry made up everything about the ghosts and whatnot at Blackwater to keep people away. They had a bad relationship, but he had asked her to sort out his will before he passed away. Henry had been a bully, and Robin believes he killed her mother (who drowned in a bathtub). He even wrote a book where a man kills his wife in a bathtub. Later, Robin wrote a story in school about a writer who commits crimes and then writes about them, and Henry retaliated by cutting off her hair. As a result, Robin has refused to touch any of the money he left her -- except for using some money to prepare of Adam and Amelia's arrival.

In the letters, we learn that on what would have been their 10th anniversary, Adam was caught cheating with her best friend from work.

In present day, Adam and Amelia notice some photos have been added on the walls. Amelia realizes that there's a photo of Adam on his wedding day with Henry in the background. It's him with his first wife, Robin. (This is the first big plot twist -- the letters were written by Robin, not Amelia. Robin and Adam were married for nearly ten years. He cheated on her with her best friend from work, Amelia. After the divorce, he married Amelia.)

Today is what would have been their 11th anniversary. Robin writes another letter to Adam, explaining how her father had hired a private investigator, Samuel Smith, to keep tabs on her and Adam. Through his research, she learned that Amelia is actually the person who was in the car that killed Adam's mother.

In present day, Robin locks them inside and slips an envelope with the letters she's written under the door. Adam reads the letters and confronts Amelia with this information. Amelia seems frantic and comes at him with a knife, but Robin attacks her with a pair of scissors. Adam and Robin end up getting back together. Adam then narrates the truth about what really happened regarding his mother's death. Amelia had been an old girlfriend of his and they'd been in the car together. She distracted him as he was driving, and he was the one who hit and killed his mother. Amelia then drove off.

Later, Sam Smith (the private investigator) hasn't heard from Henry in some time and goes looking for him at Blackwater. According to Henry, Robin had been a troubled child who had an overactive imagination. When he disciplined her for it once, she cut off her own hair. Sam finds Henry's grave, and he thinks he hears someone whispering his name. When he finds a sapphire ring (a ring Adam gave to Robin and then later Amelia) with a ring finger (presumably Amelia's from when Robin attacked her) still attached, Sam runs away from Blackwater.

For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.

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Book Review

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney passed me by when it was released a month ago, but I’ve heard good things about it. Then, when I heard that Richard Armitage was narrating parts of the audiobook, it jumped straight to the top of my to-read (or to-listen, I suppose) list. (You might know him as the male lead in the North & South miniseries or as Thorin from The Hobbit movies.)

I love a solidly narrated audiobook, especially if it’s a thriller which I think is a genre that lends itself well to audiobooks. So, this was an easy choice for what to review next.

In Rock Paper Scissors, Amelia and Adam are a married couple that’s going through a rough patch. They go to Scotland for a quick getaway at their marriage counselor’s recommendation. They end up staying at an old chapel — which Amelia won as part of a raffle. Nearby, there’s a small run-down cottage. As they’re there, we soon find out that things aren’t what they seem and everyone seems to have secrets.

Rock Paper Scissors is a fast-paced and easily readable psychological-thriller-slash-mystery. Through most of the book, it’s never quite clear who you can believe or trust or even if there’s perhaps a paranormal aspect to the story. All of that makes it more fun as the story starts hitting you with plot twists near the end.

Some Criticisms

On a broad level, the plot basically works and the plot twists are fun and surprising. The plotting is a little messy though and some smaller details are left unexplained and other minor things don’t really stand up to scrutiny if you try to pick it apart. I imagine that many people will be left with quite a few unanswered questions after reading this.

That said, the stuff that doesn’t entirely add up or things that are a little wonky are fairly minor and as a whole the book works. I think how much you’ll like this book will probably be dependent upon how much those little details bother you. I enjoyed it enough that I found it pretty easy to look past it and enjoy it for what it is.

Read it or Skip it?

The book is somewhere between “okay” to “pretty darn good”, depending on how much you care about small plot imperfections, but the audiobook is excellent. So, I’d say if you’re curious about the story, listen to the audiobook if you can.

Despite some minor flaws, as a whole the book worked for me and this is probably one of the more fun thrillers I’ve read lately. I think mystery fans who love a few good twists and turns in their story should give this a look.

For anyone who doesn’t typically read mysteries, this will probably be a skip for you. This is totally genre fiction and if you don’t like psychological-thriller-slash-mystery novels, you won’t like this either.

See Rock Paper Scissors on Amazon.

Rock Paper Scissors Audiobook Review

Narrated by: Richard Armitage & Stephanie Racine
Length: 10 hours 21 minutes

I thought the audiobook was really well done. Good audio quality, and I liked both the narrators. The acting was convincing and their voices were nice to listen to. Definitely a solid audiobook option if you’re looking for one and like mysteries.

Hear a sample of the Rock Paper Scissors audiobook on Libro.fm.

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of Rock Paper Scissors


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