Monday, May 7, 2012

Quiver by Holly Luhning

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: May 6, 2012

In sixteenth-century Hungary, Countess Elizabeth Bathory tortured and killed over six hundred servant girls in order to bathe in their blood. She believed this practice would keep her skin youthful and her beauty immortal. Quiver tells the story of Danica, a forensic psychologist who works at a former insane asylum-turned-forensic hospital. one of Danica's mental patients is Malcolm Foster, who is imprisoned for murdering a fourteen-year-old girl. Foster is a menacing but fascinating patient and Danica begins to suspect that Foster may have been the head of a gothic cabal idolizing Bathory. Her peers dismiss her discoveries, while disturbing incidents begin following her home from work. Soon after her arrival in London, Danica receives a mysterious note from Maria, a seductive archivist with whom Danica has had an intriguing and complicated past. Maria claims she has Bathory s diaries that chronicle her relentless torture of young women. As Maria increasingly insinuates herself into Danica s life, soon Danica is in too deep to notice that Maria s motivations are far from selfless; in fact, they may just cost Danica her life.

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Luhning’s writing is pretty decent for a debut, but I can’t bring myself to go any higher than three stars. She is definitely on the right track, I don’t want to come off as discouraging, but the basic construction leaves much to be desired. More than that though, I think the marketing department failed her in that they set the book up to be something it simply isn’t. 

I’ll come back to the construction issues later; I want to address the marketing issues first. Quiver is advertised as a thriller. No offense to Luhning or her publisher, but I wouldn’t shelve this next to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Angels and Demons. It just isn’t that kind of book. I personally feel it would do better if it were marketed as a contemporary mystery. Quiver is a decent story, but it doesn’t have the edge of your seat momentum you would expect from a suspenseful whodunit or even the psychological drama of say Silence of the Lambs. Classifying it as such sets an expectation that the book just doesn’t achieve. 

Similarly, I think the blurb makes too big a deal out of the Bathory. This isn’t her story in the same way that the Da Vinci Code isn’t the story of Mary Magdalene. I don’t know who makes the decisions regarding cover blurbs, but I think whoever created this one misstepped in relying too heavily on the drawing power of the Blood Countess. The name dropping ensures you will sell copies, but people who pick up the book expecting to find sixteenth century Hungary aren’t going to be impressed with present day London, relationship drama and art exhibitions. 

Since I’m already dissecting the blurb can someone please explain to me exactly which “discoveries” Danica’s peers disregard? She brings up her concerns only in the final chapters of the book and while she is blown off, I don’t think her employers were unjustified considering their assessment of her mental state and the time her information was given. And what are the “disturbing incidents” that seem to follow Dr. Winston home after hours? So far as I can tell the only incidents that affect Danica involve Henry’s philandering and in all honesty, cheaters are a dime a dozen. Either I somehow overlooked several chapters worth of information or we are again over exaggerating the content. 

The plot felt disjointed, a good idea but there wasn’t enough to really get into Danica’s story. There wasn’t enough Foster to be disturbed, there wasn’t enough jeopardy to evoke alarm and there wasn’t enough suspense to keep the audience guessing (Not to toot my own horn, but I called the ending midway through the reading). The Bathory diaries were interesting but they are short, limited in scope and few and far between. I felt myself asking which story Luhning was trying to tell. The psychological aspects of both the present day cult and the historic mistress who inspired it are literary gold, but neither was satisfyingly fleshed out. 

This is really one of the books you want to go into with little or no expectations. It isn’t bad, but I think those who pick it up with an open mind will garner more enjoyment than those whose interest is sparked by the description of content.   

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I pull the red card out of my purse, type gyilkosság into an online Hungarian-English dictionary. Gyilkosság is murder.
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