Norma Lehr,
Dark Maiden
(Juno, 2008)

When Sheila Miller's baby dies, everyone in her life seems to become part of a conspiracy to keep her from discovering the real reasons behind it. Her therapist, her husband and even the new neighbour she's been flirting with all try to convince her she's unhinged, she's imagining things. Of course, when people in the small town Sheila's moved to start dying mysteriously, only the Dark Maiden haunting Sheila's mind can provide the answers.

By taking the Chinese legends of fox maidens who can change shape and wreak havoc, author Norma Lehr creates the basis for a fabulous and fascinating villain. Unfortunately, she is never explained very well. The reader is presented with a list of her abilities and a background story, but the maiden's actual actions and powers never really come together. Many of her motives remain weak after the final secret is revealed, and several of the plot points surrounding her never manage to fall into place.

Lehr appears overly concerned with the maiden's visual aspects, and forgets that her readers need to feel terrified of what she is, instead of jumping in their seats at the sight of a swirling stream of bats, or any other trick.

Luckily for this haphazard Dark Maiden, the plot of Lehr's novel is equally scattered. It's apparent the author knew the storyline she was going for, but in order to get it across she needed far too many coincidences and supernatural accidents. The result is an implausible hodgepodge of theories that need a lot of exposition to connect and make logical. Thus, after the crisis situation is set up and the great revelations start coming unveiled, the reader must wade through a long, slow-moving mass of backstory and loose ends instead of racing towards what should have been a fast-paced and exciting end. Moreover, when the finale does arrive, the main shots come too fast, are still badly explained and have no real impact without a visual. Add an ending with no satisfying conclusion and it feels like you've just read the screenplay for a mid-range horror movie setting up for a possible sequel.

If all you want is something to scare you out of your own troubles for a few hours, this novel will distract you brilliantly by adding confusion to its terrors. On the other hand, if what you want is a good mystery, or just a good book, look elsewhere. As a film Dark Maiden would look good, and many of its problems with the ending and its overall pacing would disappear, but as a novel this just won't cut it.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Whitney Mallenby

19 July 2008

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