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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
In Malice, Quite Close is a complex and beautifully written debut novel by Brandi Lynn Ryder, a finalist for Amazon's 2009 Breakthrough Novel Award. The title comes from a poem by Rimbaud (yes, one of the ones that got him in trouble) and sets the perfect tone of vaguely perverse literary suspense. If you read the first chapter (which should be featured in a 400 level creative writing class called "How to Write Your Arse Off in Your First Chapter"), you'll be dragged kicking and screaming under the surface of this sophisticated mystery in which the lines between abduction and seduction are blurred, time and POV keep deftly shifting, and the authenticity of the soul-sick main characters is nothing less than chilling.
Tristan, a wealthy French dilettante, becomes fixated on disaffected all-American girl Karen, who is Lolita-teen-and-a-half and eager to escape her creepy hands-on father. "You make me a monster, Karen," Tristan tells her when she realizes she's a milk carton waiting to happen, "but I'll tell you a secret. You can make me anything you like." He lures her (or does she lure him?) into a life of hidden identities, tangled love quadrangles and secret passageways, where the only light is Nicola, the precocious 11-year-old daughter of Karen, who's now a grown woman known as Gisele, who sleeps with pretty much every guy in the book. Nicola may or may not be Tristan's daughter and either is or isn't becoming the next apple of his obsessive eye, so drama drama WHAT? drama NO! drama drama I did NOT see that coming drama ensues to literally the last page.
Candidly, the Gordian plot is going to be one toke over the line for some people, but if you love a lushly crafted novel and are willing to follow this talented author into the twisty turny catacomb, you'll come out, towel off and sit by the window waiting for her next book. (Note to Aspiring Writers: If nothing else, seriously, read that first chapter. That, my friends, is how it's done.)
On the total flip side stylistically is the more hard-boiled (or perhaps shirred, because it's Australian) Mice by Gordon Reece. Sixteen year old Shelley, the victim of a horrific act of school bully violence, moves with her mum to a cozy cottage in the country, where they quietly and mousishly sip hot chocolate and listen to Brahms until late one night when a crank-fiend burglar breaks into the house, ties them to a couple of chairs and acts quite boorishly in general. Shelley manages to free herself from both her ropes and her victim complex within about six minutes and opens up a can of whoopass on the guy, which believe me, no guy is prepared for, even if he's high on crank. What follows is more heist-comedy than horror flick. Shelley and Mum are still Shelley and Mum, even with blood on their crumpets, so caper caper WHAT? caper NO! caper caper I did NOT see that coming caper ensues to literally the last page.
Honestly, I hope this book is supposed to be funny, because I really laughed out loud, even during (especially during!) the most unfortunate turns of event. I kinda wish they'd packaged it with more of a Carl Hiaasen feel, because it's a fast, delicious little thriller that requires a sense of humor to facilitate suspension of disbelief, and the packaging had me expecting something much darker and Carrie-like.
The spare prose and off-the-rails but streamlined trajectory of the plot is the antithesis of what you get from In Malice, Quite Close, but that's exactly what made these two books such a pleasure to read back to back.
Visit Brandi Lynn Ryder's website for a sneak peek at the forthcoming sequel to IMQS. And check out Gordon's Reece's graphic novel featuring Count Oblonsky, Russia’s greatest detective (even Sherlock Holmes writes to him for advice!) assisted by Petrov, his trusty Cossack manservant, and Boris, the weight-challenged dachshund.