Friday, 26 August 2016

Wot I'm reading: San Francisco gothic

Jonathan Moore: THE POISON ARTIST


This stylish new thriller comes with rave cover reviews from Stephen King and Lee Child - praise indeed! Mr King compares it to Red Dragon, although I was more reminded of Hannibal, the most gothic of Thomas Harris's Lecter quartet. 

San Francisco toxicologist Caleb Maddox has just had a bruising break-up with his girlfriend when he meets a glamorous 'lady in red' in a late-nite bar. Emmeline is from another era, beautiful but damaged, with an edge of mystery and danger about her.  Caleb is himself damaged by an episode in his past that continues to haunt him. Called in to examine the bodies of men fished out of the bay, he finds evidence of poison and hideous torture. There's gruesome stuff here: one victim's body has turned to soap in the water ('saponification' - look it up). 

At times I wasn't sure if this was meant to be a medical/psychological horror story or an erotic thriller. A long scene in a period mansion lit by candles and a hurricane lamp is quasi-Victorian, with some highly-charged sex.  Jonathan Moore's writing is accomplished and often vividly original. The mansion has a secret room with "the heavy scent of dust and dead memories." For me the metaphysical denouement was hard to swallow, shifting the tone from Victorian gothic to Hollywood gothic (Brian De Palma territory), but this is a stand-out read, dark and deeply disturbing.

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