Jennifer McMahon's latest novel, found at all your local new booksellers and available for ordering online, is peopled with engaging characters and fueled by a mysterious pulsing at the center. Readers are welcomed at the beginning by the Black Dahlia-esque historical precedent (and currency, as we learn in this novel’s course) that in the mid 1980s a serial killer was cutting off the right hands of females, and depositing them on the steps of the local police station. Five days later, the bodies would be positioned theatrically somewhere in the unfortunate town. The killer at large was never apprehended, and the last victim's right hand showed up, but her body was never displayed. As a result, this woman’s daughter, Reggie, the one she left behind, grew up without her mother. But had she survived, after all? 25 years later, Reggie and readers like us get the bloodcurdling answer that. yes, she had, only so psychologically unbalanced and physically impaired from the trauma she’d endured in Neptune’s captivity she was literally unable to coherently relate any specifics of that ordeal. Does this sound like a book to make your blood turn cold or not? Now Reggie has her mother back, but what has happened here? Who is this mad killer Neptune? Reggiee determines to settle the case and solve her ruined life in so doing.
Chapters alternate between Reggie’s present driven prosecution of the mystery, and Neptune’s heyday as a gleeful murderer in his prime years as glee-mad killer. This has the effect of increasing the story’s inherent urgency and lending momentum to the plot’s own engine, as Reggie and her childhood friends Tara and Charlie are implicated as years of covert intertwining are unraveled in a single mad sadistic flash over the field of history. Readers may at first feel daunted by this book’s prodigious length, thinking something like, “Sheesh, more than 400 pages, I don’t know if I can hang with such an investment, I just—“
Don’t sweat it, reader. This book is like an automated treadmill. It does the entertaining for you, no investment necessary, all you have to do is read it. That’s a remarkable thing. Modern day author Jennifer McMahon is an example of a trait I first noticed in 1930s writers like John Fante and Nathanael West, to which I gave the name “hospitality” and started trying to live up to right away. This story hospitably perpetuates and embellishes and qualifies its mysterious essence from word one. Who is this Neptune? What is it about the women’s hands? Why did he spare Vera’s life? Who is Reggie? In my opinion as a surfer, the very best thing about this book is that readers begin in one reality and exit into another. Ms. McMahon’s style of storytelling is extremely absorbing, and her deft appropriation and transmutation of underground history extremely impressive.