Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Threshold

Title: Threshold
Author: Bonnie Kozek
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Price: $ 11.95
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 978-0595497584
Pages: 128
Point of Sale: Amazon
Review By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Deviant, damaged, and a not so pretty personification of obsessive need: meet hard-ass Honey McGuinnes who is the trash-talking street-wise ex-junkie narrator of this emotionally charged thriller. Yup, Honey has been on the receiving end of a cosmic high colonic, and she doesn’t mind giving you all the gory matter-of-fact details of her damaged psyche. Nope, Honey couldn’t give a shit when it comes to what people think of her because, as she so adamantly states throughout the story, she couldn’t give less of a shit about herself. She’s been fucked up, screwed over, chewed up, and spit out by life, and so she has checked out, preferring the company of her own kind: the equally demented and damned of skid row. She has joined the Naked Lunch witness protection program, and her only connection to the world is the sewer, really. By day Honey works at the local mission serving food to the indigent, and by night she holes herself up in her dilapidated warehouse apartment and chills by playing sexy-hooker dress up by herself and getting psycho-sexual gratification with a nice warm enema. Yes, I said enema. Honey definitely has enough freaky fetishes and misanthropic drug-addict bravado to land herself the well paying gig of poster child for A&E’s “Intervention” series. Honey is my kind of main character. She’s a rubber-necker’s dream come true.

But here is the kicker, it’s all just show, a persona she clings to so she doesn’t have to admit or face the guilt and shame she feels for abuses suffered in childhood. So she wisecracks, cuts-up her fellow inmates, and works in defensive posturing like a sculptress with a dull chisel. She even adopts a less educated slangy dialect full of “cuzes” and whatnot, but it reads fake and it feels fake, especially when she slips out of character and uses words like “nonplussed” and “picayune.” Not sure if this was a misstep on the author’s behalf or if it alluded to some background about Honey the reader is not privy to. Either way, this had an affect on the way I felt about her. At times, Honey came off to me like a bad pity party, and so I didn’t really have much sympathy for her in the long run. But I don’t need a sympathetic protag, so even with that, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story any; although, I did have the plotline figured out about mid-way through: The crooked land developer/equally crooked cops paradigm is a staple for TV crime dramas. That said, I liked Honey, so I kept reading.

Now Honey isn’t all asshole and elbows, underneath her soiled persona is a quirky soul -- almost child-like in her anger -- who truly has genuine concern for the dregs she considers her kindred spirits, Billy in particular, who is sort of the skid-row rainman of poetry. But Billy is blissfully unaware of his lot in life and contents himself by spewing forth at full volume an endless stream of seemingly random rhymes. His innocence and his utter lack of awareness are irresistible comforts for Honey, so much so, she believes she actually feels romantic love for him in some twisted far off fairy land sort of way. It’s a love she can escape into, and Billy can be whatever she needs him to be. It’s fantasy of course, and Honey understands and admits her need for it. She knows nothing will ever come of it and never deludes herself about it. The fantasy is a respite, and it’s a hell of site better to be addicted to love -- even fake love -- than addicted to drugs or booze or cock. Shame really, because reality has a way of crashing even the most well-intentioned party. Honey’s loosely threaded existence begins to unravel when she finds Billy wired for sound and shot down on the street.

Unable to accept the death of her only friend, Honey launches her own badly thought out and badly executed pseudo-investigation into Billy’s death and a series of other peculiar incidents happening in her beloved neighbourhood. The crack-addicts are multiplying and getting more aggressive by the day, the cops’ efforts seem deliberately ineffectual, and the tape she confiscated from Billy’s blood-soaked body makes no sense at all. Seems as if Honey finally found something in her life worth fighting for.

In her feebly justified quest for vigilante reparation, Honey encounters all manner of resistance: from her neighbours, from the crack-heads, from the drug dealers, from the land developer, and from the cops. No one, including Honey, is what they appear to be, and despite her heightened sense of awareness of this fact, Honey makes some really, really, bad decisions, but once an addict always an addict, right? She has an invincibility complex, and that, coupled with the vengeance and the bad reasoning skills, puts Honey in a dangerously precarious position. Good thing she stumbles face-first into Skinner: an idealistic cop, an all around old dogma and old religion family sort of guy, who still believes in right and wrong. Skinner has his own issues, even if he isn’t aware of them until the end, so he and Honey don’t really form any sort of partnership as one might expect: most of the time, Skinner has no idea where Honey is or what she is doing at any given moment. They just wind up muddled up together in the same mess because they each feel a misguided need to save the other from their particular delusions.

Honey, as predicted, makes a rather speedy no holds barred flailing descent back into the drug scene. Her rather shabby notions of righteousness fail her almost instantaneously, and her world becomes a hedonistic nightmare replete with opiate delirium, back alley sex trade, degradation, grand epiphanies, and sodomy. The cast of villainous characters is pretty stock and trade, and they play their parts to perfection, each a dualistic balancing act that sends Honey almost over the edge.

The plotting and the characters in this story are basically archetypes of the hard-boiled detective fiction genre, so expect a certain amount of familiarity. The psychology is deep and dark much like you will find with Chandler’s Phillip Marlow, and you can see a bit of him in the character of Honey. As for the rest of the story, well, let’s just say that if Mickey Spillane took a hit of crack and met Burroughs in a back alley this is what you would get. A hell of a ride, but not for general audiences: the psychodrama part of the story is rather disturbing, with language and imagery to match.

As for the technical stuff, the 6x9 size is a detriment to the visual appeal of the book, but since it's the words that matter, the editing was quite clean and the proofreading was way above par. I noticed only one wrong word: crouch for crotch, and one sentence with an accidental repetition. I like starting out the year with a stellar read. This one had everything I wanted: it’s short, so you get just what you need without being bludgeoned by character motivations or overindulgent scenery; the story itself is dark and deeply psychotic; the writing is raw, and the narrator is full of piss and vinegar. Ms. Kozek definitely has a talent for writing in this genre, and I think she will do well if she can move beyond the archetypal characters and TV plot-line. If you are looking for a frail wounded bird waiting for her cop in shining armour to whisk in and save the day all manly and chivalrous like, you won’t find it here. If you are looking for pulp in an angry pair of red stilettos, then you will love this book.

This book was purchased at retail by the reviewer and will be offered during one of our Free Book Friday contests, so stay tuned.


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