Page 45 Review by Stephen
In which a serial killer seeks to expose the truth.
This book is going to surprise you - and in so many ways.
Like INFIDEL, it is a terrifying ordeal which fuses the occult with real-world horrors like racism and, here, misogyny: the treatment of women as witches and bitches and cattle; to be burned, slaughtered, used and abused for sexual gratification, or as part of a serial killer's pretentious art project. Okay, there may be another motive there too, but only "too" not "instead".
"This is serious, Bridget. This weirdo can ruin us. He's making a scene and we haven't caught him yet. Why aren't you annoyed about this? I'm annoyed about this. Be more annoyed about this."
"You're annoying me right now, does that count?"
Firstly, there is that deft dialogue, reprised a dozen or so pages later when the present-day Redlands-ruling trio of Roo, Alice and Bridget are called out to witness the attention-seeking murderer's latest nasty little tableau of three dead, naked women on display, chosen to resemble each of them in turn.
"Alright, I'm annoyed now."
"Welcome to the party."
Secondly, do you suspect there is something that I haven't told you? There is plenty that I haven't told you. You should probably be getting used to that: I want to intrigue you to buy.
Although, here's a hint: "This is serious, Bridget. This weirdo can ruin us." Not, you will note, "This is serious, Bridget. All these women are being murdered." ("On our watch," optional.)
The opening chapter is set in Redlands, Florida, forty years earlier, at night. It blasts like a furnace roaring into your face as a local police precinct, heavily manned, lies under siege from three women (unseen), while outside the base of a sizeable tree has begun to burn. The red-neck sheriff and his deputy son are bullish but already on the defensive. They all have shotguns. They also have a crowded jail down below full of we-don't-like-your-sorts-around-here". Their public lynching has apparently gone a little awry. Awwwwww.
What occurs next is vicious, startling and ever so cathartic if you happen to dislike bigots and bullies.
Del Ray keeps the multiple manipulations and subsequent, sleight-of-hand interventions swift, dramatic and emphatically out-of-the-blue, while Bellaire ensures that justice proves ever so poetic.
And Redlands is burned to the ground.
Forty years on, chapter two sees those same three women in charge of a Redlands rebuilt from its foundations up. But "in charge" in what capacity, exactly...? And why are they less concerned with the evisceration of women than they are of their own hegemony? When the dead ladies' corpses are counted, DNA-sampled and found to be delinquents with no surviving family, they are relieved.
"It is good news, Alice. At least we don't need to bother with concerned parents, notably the worst human creatures God could have created."
It's a surprising priority for law-enforcement ladies. But then they're not really law enforcement.
Other surprises include that the main mysteries and histories and even alliances are not going to be what you will at first suspect. This is no linear, A to B to C tale at all. I promise you startling developments, abrupt forks in the road, diversions aplenty, sub-plots galore, and even more fire before we're finished!
The first chapter's colours are all old wood and fire, except for the cage below which is the sort of putrescent, dysentery green you might associate with equally crowded, below-decks slave holds. There's lots of lovely red in chapter two (roses, sacrificial blood, that sort of thing), while Miami at night is all kinds of lurid, clashing neon, inside and out.
Del Ray's figures are fulsome and wholesome, except when they're dead. Actually there are loads of different body forms but I liked that line, so it stays. She does emaciated very well too, but I liked the sense of weight, especially when being lifted, naked, from a deck, then dangled above a dozen leathery alligators lurking in the river. Don't try that at home.
The clothes are heavily creased - I don't iron, either - and largely loose as you'd expect at those temperatures, and there's a grainy feel throughout, with lots of texture lines providing additional perspective and depth, or in Roo's case, a sense of great age in spite of her tight skin and clear complexion. She has long, spindly, claw-like hands and a daughter called Itsy who's... (Don't spoil the surprise, Stephen.)
But honestly, the dialogue:
"Why do I have to go? High school kids never stop talking. It's the worst."
"We do not choose our abilities, Alice. They choose us. Perhaps you enjoy listening to others - "