Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

When I’m on vacation I like books that I can really get into, but that aren’t overly… um, mentally taxing. What I’m looking for changes depending on the season I’m reading it in. I was recently on a very relaxing vacation at a mountain resort in the off season. There was literally nothing to do except for read books and watch tv in front of the fire. It was exactly what I was looking for. There was more movie watching than there should have been, but I didn’t have to think about work for 10 whole days – perfection. I started the vacation with a really heavy book, and when I finally finished that one, I turned to Weirdo. It was exactly the kind of book I was looking for. A two fold murder mystery being told simultaneously. It’s a super fast, super easy read, but for the most part, it’s entertaining.

I don’t normally write about thrillers. They tend to be pretty generic – even the good ones. It’s part of what makes them enjoyable. Also, it’s nearly impossible to really talk about them without giving away the things that make them intriguing or unique. This one follows the expected format, but with the twist needed to make it interesting. There’s no possible way for me to talk about this book without talking about the specifics, so, if you’re one of those people that reads reviews before the book, turn away now. Beware all ye who enter here. Etc. Etc. As I mentioned above, there are two storied being told simultaneously in this book. The twist is that they are occurring in two different decades and one directly impacts the other.

Story One: Sean Ward has been hired to investigate new evidence in a murder case twenty years old. Old, not cold. There’s been a conviction, and no one thinks the wrong girl is in jail. Not even Sean or the lawyer who hired him. Corrine is guilty. She is exactly where she should be. What they now think is that she didn’t act alone. New DNA has been discovered that can’t be matched to anyone known to be involved in the crime. Ward’s job is to figure out who the genetic material belongs to. Give this lawyer a reason to try to get the case re-evaluated.

Story Two: It’s the early 1980’s and Debbie is just trying to get through high school. She’s getting a bit tired of her friend, Corrine, who loves pop stars and doesn’t get punk. Debbie is falling into the punk/art school movement – as well as Darren, who’s undergone a dramatic summer transformation. Then Samantha moves to town. A pretty, spoiled, princess type girl who quickly becomes obsessed with Debbie’s life. And then Corrine’s. Sam is a bad seed. Like from the play kind of bad seed. She torments/kills animals – although her mother has never admitted this to anyone. She stalks and single white female’s people. But no one believes Debbie or Rennie. All the adults seem to think Sam is great.

These two stories are being told side by side. We know that Corrine is locked away in a psychiatric hospital for murder. She killed someone in a satanic ritual. But we have no idea who was killed. So, not only are we trying to figure out if Corrine actually did it (cause there’s doubt – there’s always doubt) and if she did it alone, but also who the hell she did it to. Who dies in the past is crucial to figuring out the motivations of the people in the present. If Sam dies, you kind of don’t really blame Corrine. You may, in fact, root for her. At one point, I said to my friend “I don’t know who dies in this book, but I know who I hope it is.” Sam was a truly terrible character. Her death would not make me sad. If Debbie dies, then you know it couldn’t have been Corrine. She would never have killed her best friend. Under no circumstances would Corrine have hurt the girl who stood by her for so long. I spent the entire book trying to figure out which one of these two women died. I needed to know so I could figure out who the living one was in the modern section of the book.

I honestly thought it was one of these two girls. I was certain. I would have maybe put money on it. Pretty much until the actual death at the end of the book. When it’s finally revealed that it’s Darren that died, I had to completely rethink what was happening in the present story. That left two people in the game when I was sure there was only one. I had not worked out a scenario where both were alive. Twisty. So, where are these two girls now? There aren’t enough women in the story for them to be. In fact, there are almost no women in the direct story. Basically, there’s Francesca and Noj – and we know who Noj was in the original story. So we’ve been getting hints that the reporter used to live in town, but not who she was. I always kind of suspected that maybe if Debbie wasn’t the victim, she might be Debbie. But could she have changed her name and not had anyone recognize that it was her? And I had really, really hoped that Sam was dead, so I wasn’t paying enough attention to who she might be. But then the answer turns out to be something else entirely.

Unsworth tells a pretty straightforward story about police conspiracies and corruption. There are a plethora of terrible people in this town. Drug trades and porn rings run by the police chief and the owner of the amusement park. Mothers whoring out their daughters. Daughters giving blow jobs in order to make money. It’s everywhere. But it’s below the surface. Ask the average townie and they’re going to deny that even exists – and that’s true in both time periods. The thing that throws everyone into a tizzy is the Satanism. Now, if you watch/read enough crime drama/true crime, you’ll know that pretty much every claim of Satanism as the root of a crime has been debunked. It’s actually what drew me to this book. It happens in this book, too. There are elements of Wicca present. And yes, admittedly, back in the 80’s, no one would have really understood the difference. But there is no Satan worship. There is a messed up little girl – Sam – who is so angry with Corrine that she would rather murder her than just ignore her for a couple more months. Darren is a victim of circumstance.

So, we hop forward to the present day. Sean is figuring everything out. So is Francesca. Things are getting dangerous. There are moments of peril – specifically for her. And we finally find out what happened to Sam. In order to save her, her grandfather has her hospitalized and medicated to the point of zombification. She’s still in the same state – having been basically sold to the new police chief with the understanding that he will keep things the status quo in exchange for his promotion. It all comes together in a delightful mess. But where’s Debbie? Did she really just flee town? And now that we know Corrine didn’t do it, what will happen to her? She’s in no condition to function in regular society. And then Debbie steps forward – the lawyer who hired Sean. Who’s been so far in the background you’ve kind of forgotten about her. Good work!

The story behind this book is great and intriguing, so why am I not raving about it? It’s the writing. It falls into this metaphor writing that I hate. I don’t hate metaphors. I hate when they are used where simple writing would work better. There was one line in the book that annoyed me so much, but perfectly encapsulates what I’ve been trying to describe in several of my posts. “Underneath the leather, the impression of [his] fingers would soon be showing through her white skin like a purple bouquet”. Why can’t it just say something like “She could already feel the bruises from his fingers forming beneath the leather of her jacket”? Simple, straight forward, clear. Stop with all the flowery blarg, please, authors. Please! It does you no favours. And if you’re going to insist on doing it, at least don’t go so over the top with it.

Weirdo was a super enjoyable read, if you can just get past the over the top writing.

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