Here’s the thing I love about Marwood – she writes these stories that contain really gritty ideas but focuses on the human aspect of the story. On what makes the perpetrator fit in. Especially in the sections of society that are already marginalized and viewed with suspicion. A population so on the fringes that people don’t even notice when tenants go missing. They assume they’ve just taken off. Left their unit in this house they share. Units they pay for in cash with no record checks or backgrounds required before they move in. The type of place where someone like The Lover could live.
The Lover is a man living in the building. That’s really all we know. A sad, lonely man looking for a connection. For a life partner. All he wants is someone to make him feel loved. But instead of doing what the rest of the world does and going to a bar or using online dating or meeting someone through a friend, he kills vulnerable women from his building and mummifies them in his suite. But everyone who lives in this building is kind of sad. All of the male characters could potentially be The Lover. Is it the weird classical music playing guy? The political refuge? The overly friendly guy upstairs? The disgusting landlord? Each one is as likely to be the killer as the others. All we know is that he is a man. His entries into the story are sad, in their own way. I mean sure, he’s clearly unhinged, but he’s sad. He cannot figure out how to relate with people in a way that would allow him to form real social relationships.
Besides The Lover, we get the stories of each of the people living in the complex. The aforementioned men, as well as, Collette (Lisa) who is running from her life. Trying to escape a former boss who wants her dead. Cher who is clearly young and hiding from something. A thief who risks rolling johns so she doesn’t have to give in to the skeezy landlords sex for rent offer. And Vesta, dear old Vesta. The hold out from the original house. Living in a rent controlled suite with a garden and private access. But poor Velda, there is a problem with the pipes in her unit and the dick landlord won’t help her. And he certainly doesn’t want her to offer sex in exchange.
And behind all of this, we know that by the end of the story, Collette has gone missing. But how? Did the old boss get her? The Lover? Did she run? Her story is the one that drives the novel. We are at the mercy of our decisions. And Lisa has made some bad ones in the name of money. Decisions that have lead her to this place where she needs to hide out. Hiding from danger in a place that puts her into even more danger. Her life is untenable. All of their lives are untenable. And it’s that that makes this a good book. Not the crime novel portion but looking at the lives of people who have run out of options.
I don’t think this book was creepy or gross. I know lots of people have said that they were creeped out by the mummification, but the grossest part was the landlord and the toilet. That whole scene. Gag. I don’t even want to think about it. We are all potentially a few bad choices away from a sewer system full of human grease. And that’s a lot scarier than anything that happens in this novel.