Monday, July 01, 2019

42. Reflection of Evil (originally Death of a Fox) by Jan Roffman

A pretty classic 60s British gothic thriller, uplifted somewhat by the really tight unity of place.  Young widow Joanna Crane with her 4-year old son Mark, in economic desperation takes a job as a live-in housemaid in a sad duplex at the end of a country lane.  Her employer is laconic to say the least and utterly without sympathy, a stern, isolated old man with meagre but specific wants.  We learn that Joanna's husband died two years earlier and her attentions to his disease (and of course his death) have made her son somewhat neurotic and needy.  Things quickly get weird when the perspective switches to a man hiding in the attic, spying on her and wondering how she will mess up his plans.  Who he is and what those plans are take a while to learn, and it is part of the anxiety/fun.  It is winter and the constant snow storms play a crucial role in Joanna's psychological struggle with at first isolation and then fear when she discovers the existence of this third player in their little house.

So much of the protagonist's action is passive in these books.  I find it really challenging to read.  They are really slow, agonizing burns. Instead of the intermittent release of some ass-kicking you get in the men's action books, in these gothic thrillers you spend a lot of time just following the heroine as she tries to figure stuff out, then tries to master her emotions and then tries to just survive and not get harmed and more importantly, not allow that which is precious to her be harmed (in this case, her son).  She is also constantly blaming herself for everything and being so critical of what she considers tactical mistakes, when you as a reader recognize that she is actually pretty darn brave and making the best of a really fucked up situation.  I guess this is so the love interest (in this case, the town doctor) can later absolve her directly.  And in the end, she does actively save herself and her son with some desperate but direct action.

I found the backstory here pretty cool and well thought out (which they aren't always in this genre), and the stuffy, cheap, cold house very convincing and unpleasant.  The location and the side characters as well were well developed.  There was also a fox struggling with the winter that was a nice (if sad) touch.  The romance wasn't as fleshed out as it could have been, almost felt like an afterthought.  Really, the meat here is about a woman trapped in a house with a killer, isolated in a winter storm and how she survives.  Solid.

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