Book review and synopsis for Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney, a twisty domestic thriller set in an old chapel in Scotland.
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 SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of Rock Paper ScissorsQuick 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.