There are dark things in both the mind and the life of private investigator Caitlin Reese; those in the mind which she has inherited from her celtic foremothers and which cause her to have strange premonitions and psychic episodes, and those which stem from the case on which she is working. She is hired by Liz, a woman she doesn't really like, to find out who is sending disturbing dismembered photographs to her girlfriend Laura. Liz has her suspicions focussed firmly on Laura's ex-husband Theo Blalock but Laura denies that he could be responsible. The pictures show Laura's body cut up and reassembled and hint at a motive far more evil than a childish desire to frighten or plain extortion. She seeks advice from the reclusive Dr Eliane St Cyr, an criminal profiler who was blinded many years earlier by a juvenile offender who also sent cut up photos of themselves to women. Eliane suggests that there are indeed dark and evil motives lurking behind the photographs. To say more would be to give away the plot, which of course I don't do. Complexity is added by the ambivalent feelings that Caitlin has towards her lover Tonia, for some reason she feels unsatisfied and can't decide if these feelings are due to personal fear of relationships, an 'imp of perversity' or the plain fact that the relationship has run it's course. Tonia is committed to the relationship but she is not sure if it is what she wants. At her first sight of Eliane she is felled by the forces of desire and has to fight to keep her mind on the case and off Eliane.
This novel has elements of brooding and darkness running all through it, from the stormy boatyard, to the perpetual darkness which is the word of Eliane. Caitlin has disturbing dreams and finds herself wondering the extent to which she is turning into one of her foremothers. However it is not a miserable nor unpleasant book. Caitlin has a humorous, attractive and happy personality which transcends the darkness at every turn, and Douglas writes with a sure and certain touch which prevents the book degenerating at its darker moments into melodrama; the moments of decisive action are well-written and gripping. The title is taken from a poem of the same name by Christina Rossetti, sister of the artist (who also wrote the hymn 'In the Bleak Midwinter' to give you an idea of her general high levels of cheerfullness). However the literary elements in the novel are taken from Shakespear's 'The Tempest' - but who is playing Caliban?
It's a good book which I found hard to put down, while it is always unlikely that Reese would fail to solve the case in the end, the extent to which it is a happy ending with all loose ends tied up and everybody who deserves to be happy being so, is hard to judge until the final pages. Douglas is a skilled writer who can suit her style to the moment, from lightness and humour to darkness and evil, with a sure and delicate touch. One thing the book lacks for me is a sense of 'place' - the locations themselves are well described and created: Caitlin's apartment, Eliane's house, the pub, the boatyard, etc. But somehow they come across as snapshots of scenes rather than as a complete and coherent landscape. Caitlin's favorite piece of music is, however, Pictures at an Exhibition, so perhaps this is totally in keeping with the Caitlin Reese mood! This though, does not spoil an enjoyable and readable book, nor will it stop me reading more novels by Lauren Wright Douglas.
Return to the Reviews index