BENEATH THE MARIGOLDS
When her friend and sponsor, Reese Marigold, goes missing after attending Last Chance, an exclusive singles’ retreat on a remote island off the coast of Hawaii, no-nonsense lawyer Ann Stone infiltrates the retreat.
Ann quickly realizes there’s more to Last Chance than meets the eye. The extravagant clothes, never-ending interviews, and bizarre dates hint that the retreat is a front for a reality dating show. Could Reese be safe, keeping a low profile until the premier, or did something sinister occur after all?
Torn between the need to uncover the truth and her desperate desire to get off the island, Ann partakes in the unusual routines of the “journey to true love” and investigates the other attendees who all have something to hide. In a final attempt to find Reese on the compound, she realizes that she herself may never get off the island alive.
“Amazing…If you’re a fan of The Bachelor, reality TV or even thrillers, this book is one you need to read. We couldn’t put the book down.”
“Cleverly plotted…Whitson’s debut novel is an intriguing new entry in the women’s suspense genre, driven by dual first-person narrators and tension-filled parallel timelines.”
Carmen Amato, Silver Falchion award finalist and author of the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series.
“Exhilarating twists and turns…a fast-paced psychological thriller that mashes up the reality series The Bachelor with Gone Girl.”
Helen Power, author of The Ghosts of Thorwald Place
“A fun, propulsive read…this book cleverly combines the archetypes of “reality TV” and the “trapped-on-a-remote-island” mystery that will perpetually keep you guessing.”
Marcy McCreary, author of The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon
“A thrill ride from start to finish.”
Patricia Broderick, author of Dead on My Feet
Reading Group Guide
Open the guide to read now...
1. How do you feel about the fact that neither Ann nor Reese end up with a partner, given the goal of reality dating shows like The Bachelor is to walk away with a marriage proposal? How do these types of shows and Last Chance reflect or amplify certain social pressures?
2. The story references physical watches and time—or lack of it—frequently. What does time symbolize?
3. The deaths in the book—Bear’s, Lamb’s, and Reese’s—have reverberating effects on Ann, Kris, and Honey. How does each character react to these events, and how do these reactions reflect the characters’ moral compass? How do the characters change—or not—after each death?
4. Why do you think the author chose to open the book with Magda putting makeup on Reese? What does makeup represent in this novel, and how does it parallel reality television and constructed societal roles?
5. Although he plays an important role in Ann’s history, Ann’s ex-boyfriend from college is never named. Why do you think that is?
6. Both Ann and Reese are in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Why do you think the author chose to portray characters in recovery as opposed to characters in the midst of addiction? How are addicts normally portrayed in fiction and popular culture?
7. The relationship between Honey and Ann is complicated. Do you think Honey genuinely cared for Ann, or was Ann merely a means to an end?
8. Marigolds are known as “companion plants.” In other words, they help adjacent plants and flowers grow by repelling bugs and insects. With this in mind, discuss the meaning of the title of the book, Beneath the Marigolds.
9. What role does Bear’s death play in the book? How does it mirror Reese’s fate?
10. What’s the significance of the red-haired woman in the AA meeting in the epilogue? What do you think happens to her, and to Ann, after the novel concludes?
Q & A with Emily
How did you come up with the idea for this book? What inspired this book?
I’ve always loved watching ABC’s The Bachelor(ette), as well as a good whodunnit, and I wondered what would happen if the two collided. The story went through several iterations, but I always kept coming back to the original premise of what would happen if a reality dating show went very, very wrong. I thought that concept was interesting and unique, and I hoped readers would feel the same way.
Your narrators are two very strong female characters. In fact, all your main characters are female. Are there real-life models? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
I believe it’s important to write from a perspective that you know and understand, so I naturally gravitate toward female characters. There aren’t specific women that served as role models, although Reese and Ann are both amalgamations of all the amazing women in my life—my mother, my mentors, my friends.
As for strengths and weaknesses, Reese trusts really easily. This is advantageous, as it helps her foster relationships, but it also occasionally gets her into dangerous situations. Ann is more reserved, which again has pros and cons. Both Ann and Reese struggle with impulse control and moderation, which is what leads—in part—to their addictions. However, both characters also have the strength and courage to choose a different path and be happy with that path.
Speaking of addiction, having two protagonists in recovery is unusual. What led to that decision?
Addicts are commonly portrayed as one-dimensional villains. Or, they are defined by their addiction. I wanted to see characters who were in recovery and succeeding. Of course, both of my characters run into trouble, but it’s trouble unrelated to their addiction. There’s still so much shame surrounding addiction, and I wanted to have characters that talked about their recovery in a refreshingly stigma-free manner. Seeing such characters would have been really helpful to me when I was entering recovery, so I hope it helps someone else in a similar situation.
How do you research your book(s)?
The Internet is my best friend when researching smaller details of the story—I watched no fewer than nine videos of helicopters in order to accurately describe the sound. If I’m able to experience something personally, I like to do that. For instance, the Back Room Group described in the epilogue is a real AA meeting place in Nashville, so I revisited the group when writing that chapter. For more complicated matters, like legal procedure, I’ll consult with an expert. (Thanks, Dad!)
What is the significance of your book’s title?
The title has several interpretations, some of which won’t be clear until the end of the novel. What I can say is that the title is partly a play on words of the missing character’s name: Reese Marigold. Ann, the protagonist, is forced to dig into Reese’s complicated life to determine what happened. So, in a way, Beneath the Marigolds is a reference to the secrets and lies that Ann uncovers along the way.
What would you consider the key theme of this book?
Love is a key theme; the entire story is an homage to the friendship between Reese and Ann, and the lengths we go to for the people we care about. On the flip side, the story also explores the dark side of love, and how that can create tainted relationships, misplaced loyalty, and ambiguous morals.
What do you want your readers to take away from this story? A thought? Hope? Idea?
I hope that readers walk away with a broader definition of a happy ending. Romantic love is wonderful, but so are other forms of love. By the end of the story, I hope it’s clear there are many paths to a fulfilling and meaningful life.
What was the greatest challenge when writing this book?
Researching the various laws surrounding the events of the novel was tough. While I’m more familiar with the legal system in Nashville, I had no prior knowledge of laws on a fictional private island, maritime law, or cross-state laws.
Writing from Reese’s perspective was also difficult. She thinks and acts much differently than I do, so getting into her head took more effort. I had to rewrite her chapters several times.
What was most fun about writing this book?
Although the legality of the setting ended up being a headache, writing about a fictional tropical island was really fun. I particularly enjoyed imagining the luxurious mansion, outfits, and lifestyle. There’s something about stifled luxury that creates a tense, suspenseful atmosphere.
Do you have a favorite quote/book/writer? What about that quote/book/writer attracts you?
There are too many to name! Some of my favorite contemporary writers are Ruth Ware, Megan Miranda, Tana French, Liane Moriarty, and Gillian Flynn. They write edge-of-your-seat stories with satisfying conclusions and complex female characters. Gillian Flynn, in particular, helped to expand archetypes of women in fiction, reminding readers that women can be just as complicated and flawed as their male counterparts.
What is hardest about being a writer?
The rejection. Even the best writing receives criticism, so growing a thick skin is a must. That doesn’t come naturally to me, so it took a long time to separate myself from my work. I still have days where I wonder what I’m doing, but I’ve learned that those days will pass. As long as I’m happy with my work, that’s all that really matters.
Would you ever consider participating in The Bachelor(ette)?
Ha! Absolutely not. I much prefer to watch the drama on my television.
Characters & Themes
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with pop culture — including ABC’s The Bachelor(ette) — and a good whodunnit. Both offer compelling storylines and great escapes from reality, and I wondered what would happen if the two collided. Although the novel went through several iterations, I always came back to the original premise of “what would happen if a reality dating show went very, very wrong?” I thought the concept was interesting and unique, and I hope you, my dear readers, feel the same way…