The Dilemma
by B. A. Paris

Published: 2020-06-30
Hardcover : 352 pages
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A woman's birthday party takes a dark turn in a poignant, heart-stopping new novel from the reigning queen of suspense, NYT and USA Today bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, and Bring Me ...
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A woman's birthday party takes a dark turn in a poignant, heart-stopping new novel from the reigning queen of suspense, NYT and USA Today bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, and Bring Me Back.

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It’s the cooling bathwater that wakes me. Disorientated, I sit up quickly, splashing suds up the sides, wondering how long I’ve been asleep. I release the plug and the drain gurgles, a too-loud sound in a silent house.

A shiver pricks my skin as I towel myself dry. A memory tugs at my brain. It was a sound that woke me, the roar of a motorbike in the street outside. I pause, the towel stretched over my back. It couldn’t have been Adam, could it? He wouldn’t have gone off on his bike, not at this time of night.

Wrapping the towel around me, I hurry to the bedroom and look out of the window. The guilty beating of my heart slows when I see, behind the tent, a yellow glow coming from his shed. He’s there, he hasn’t gone to settle scores. Part of me wants to go down and check that he’s all right, but something, a sixth sense perhaps, tells me not to, that he’ll come to me when he’s ready. For a moment I feel afraid, as if I’m staring into an abyss. But it’s just the dark and the deserted garden that’re making me feel that way.

Turning from the window, I lie down on the bed. I’ll give him another ten minutes and if he’s not back by then, I’ll go and find him.


I race along deserted streets, scattering a scavenging cat, cutting a corner too tight, shattering the night’s deathly silence with the roar of my bike. Ahead of me, the slip road to the M4 looms. I open the throttle and take it fast, screaming onto the motorway, slicing in front of a crawling car. My bike shifts under me as I push faster.

The drag of the wind on my face is intoxicating and I have to fight an overwhelming urge to let go of the handlebars and freefall to my death. Is it terrible that Livia and Josh aren’t enough to make me want to live? Guilt adds itself to the torment of the last fourteen hours and a roar of white-hot anger adds to the noise of the bike as I race down the motorway, bent on destruction.

Then, in the mirror, through the water streaming from my eyes, I see a car hammering down the motorway behind me, its blue light flashing, and my roar of grief becomes one of frustration. I take the bike to one hundred mph, knowing that if it comes to it I can push it faster, because nothing is going to stop me now. But the police car quickly closes the distance between us, moving swiftly into the outside lane, and as it levels with me, my peripheral vision catches an officer gesticulating wildly from the passenger seat.

I add more speed, but the car sweeps past and moves into my lane, blocking my bike. I’m about to open the throttle and overtake him, taking my bike to its maximum, but something stops me and he slowly reduces his speed, bringing me in. I’m not sure why I let him. Maybe it’s because I don’t want Livia to have even more pieces to pick up. Or maybe it was Marnie’s voice pleading, “Don’t, Dad, don’t!” I swear I could feel her arms tightening around my waist for a moment, her head pressing against the back of my neck.

My limbs are trembling as I bring the bike to a stop behind the police car and cut the engine. Two officers get out, one male, one female. The male strides toward me.

“Have you got a death wish or something?” he yells, slamming his cap onto his head.

The second officer—the driver—approaches. “Sir, step away from the bike,” she barks. “Sir, did you hear me? Step away from the bike.”

I try to unfurl my hands from the handlebars, unstick my legs from the bike. But I seem to be welded to it.

“Sir, if you don’t comply, I’m going to have to arrest you.”

“We’re going to have to arrest him anyway,” the first officer says. He takes a step toward me and the sight of handcuffs dangling from his belt shocks me into speech.

I flip up my helmet. “Wait!”

There must be something in my voice, or maybe they read something in my face, because both police officers pause.

“Go on.”

“It’s about Marnie.”



“Who’s Marnie?”

“My daughter.” I swallow painfully. “Marnie’s my daughter.”

They exchange a glance. “Where is your daughter, sir?” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. When did you first start to suspect that Marnie wouldn’t
make it to Livia’s party? When did you first guess why not?

2. Intergenerational relationships play a large role in this
novel. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Which
relationships most closely mirror one another? How does
Marnie’s relationship with Rob upend not only these close
relationships, but the generational divide that’s necessarily
a part of them?

3. Despite Marnie’s final fate—and the statue her father
planned to carve for her—The Dilemma makes it clear that
she was no angel. Does her affair change the way you see
her? How does it complicate the narrative?

4. Throughout The Dilemma, there are multiple instances of
two people having a conversation, or overhearing one, in
which they believe they’re on the same page, but in reality
are talking about entirely different things. How does the
idea of communication—and miscommunication—play
into the themes of the novel as a whole?

5. In the first pages, Livia says, “Once she’s back, everything
will change and we’ll no longer be able to live the lovely life
we’ve been living,” and there’s an echo of that statement
near the end: “I wanted to be able to carry on living the life
I was living.” This must be a devastating thought for Livia to
look back on. How did reading it affect you? Do you agree
with Livia’s guilt in this moment, for thinking that in the
first place?

6. In the end, the secret about Rob and Marnie’s affair remains
hidden from almost everyone. What does the revelation
of one of the novel’s huge secrets and the subsequent
continued confidentiality of the affair say about the nature
of secrets? Do you think the choice they made is ultimately
more helpful or more hurtful?

7. Can you understand the choice Adam made? Do you agree
with Livia’s decision to forgive him? Put yourself in their
shoes. Would you have made the same choice as Adam?
Could you have forgiven a loved one for making that
same choice?

8. In Adam’s chapter that runs from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., he is
preparing to tell Livia what has happened to Marnie when
he thinks instead, “these might be her last few moments of
happiness.” Ultimately, do you think the choice Adam made
to keep this secret was brave or selfish?

9. If you’ve read B. A. Paris’s other novels, you’ll note that The
Dilemma is a departure from her usual genre, psychological
thrillers. How did you find this novel different from her
previous books? In what ways is it similar?

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