Bloodprint, by Kitty Sewell

 

"The past won't be silenced forever" runs the line on the cover of this steamy book. Madeleine lives on a houseboat in Florida with her husband and childhood sweetheart Forrest, but tragedy strikes very early on in the narrative. She moves to Bath, where her long-divorced parents live – her father a renowned artist, and her Cuban mother an institutionalised, paranoid schizophrenic. Although Madeleine is an artist who paints ants (yes, seriously), she reinvents herself as a psychotherapist and sets up a practice in this English provincial city with John, a good friend.

Madeleine suffers many flashbacks into her past, and has a sexually satisfying if otherwise empty relationship with a younger man, Gordon. She tries to keep in meaningful contact with her mother, whom she visits every week, but the older woman is locked into black magic and obsessed with macabre predictions – which have a habit of coming true. Madeleine, a busy woman, also undertakes regular prison visits to an evil but ultimately sympathetic psychopath with a "long arm".

Enter Rachel, a troubled young woman who becomes Madeleine's latest client. Rachel is addicted to a Ukrainian criminal Anton, an evil man who is devastatingly handsome to women (true to the overblown style of the novel, every woman he meets cannot take her eyes off him). Rachel hates Anton and has run away from him to start a new life with their son, Sasha. Anton, inevitably, menaces Rachel – she is incapable of resisting his charms even though he has forced her into prostitution, beats her up and mentally tortures her and Sasha, disrupting the boy's pathetic chance of a normal life at school. Rachel turns to Madeleine in desperation, revealing horrific things about her past to the older woman, begging her to help her escape from Anton and his even nastier brother, Uri. Madeleine soon has a shocking suspicion of her own, which draws her uncomfortably into Rachel's unstable life.

BLOODPRINT is in many ways a soap opera, in which the female characters seem unable to make decisions as they are too prey to their baser impulses. Where this works once or twice, the passivity of the women becomes a little hard to take after a while. Yet away from the women's interactions with various men, their personalities and thoughts seem convincing and real. The male characters, on the other hand, are far less well presented than the females.

As the book reaches its final quarter, the plot really picks up. Thankfully, the Cuban past and the ritual devices of Madeleine's mad mother are dropped, as well as some other half-realized themes, and the pace picks up. It is almost too late for the author to rescue the mish-mash of hot and melodramatic themes, particularly some of the rather gratuitous descriptions, for example Madeleine's climactic artwork and the connection between that and Uri. BLOODPRINT cannot quite make up its mind what kind of book it is trying to be, with its liberal dashing of suspense, romanticism, sadism, explicit sex and dark past lives. Themes are picked up and put down at the expense of focus. However, there is narrative power and strength in the separate stories of Madeleine and Rachel, which are moving as well as absorbing.

Kitty Sewell's previous book, ICE TRAP, oscillated between Wales and northernmost Canada. BLOODPRINT does the same with Florida and Bath in western England. I think that the author can write with real passion, but the phrase "less is more" could usefully be applied. I enjoyed the book, but felt that too many different types of melodrama were involved, verging onto cliche in some instances. I hope that Kitty Sewell's next book is more selective, as she's a strong author, particularly in getting into the skin of her female protagonists. She just does not need to feature quite so many facets in the mosaic of the whole.

First posted at Euro Crime, February 2009.

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