In Lydia Cooper's wry and absorbing debut novel, we are introduced to Mickey Brandis, a brilliant twenty-eight-year-old doctoral candidate in medieval literature who is part Lisbeth Salander and part Dexter. She lives in her parents' garage and swears too often, but she never complains about the rain or cold, she rarely eats dead animals, and she hasn't killed a man since she was ten. Her life is dull and predictable but legal, and she intends to keep it that way.
But the careful existence Mickey has created in adulthood is upended when she is mysteriously led to a condemned house where she discovers an exquisitely mutilated corpse. The same surreal afternoon, she is asked by a timid, wall-eyed art student to solve a murder that occurred twenty years earlier. While she gets deeper and deeper into the investigation, she begins to lose hold on her tenuous connection to reality--to her maddening students and graduate thesis advisor; to her stoic parents, who are no longer speaking; to her confused, chameleon-like adolescent brother; and to her older brother, Dave, a zany poet who is growing increasingly erratic and keenly interested in Mickey's investigation.
This was a book that surprised me a bit. I expected a thriller, just a regular genre story, so I found myself smiling at how carefully it was constructed, how lyrically it was written. Definitely not what I expected.
The main character, Michaela, is one of the more interesting protagonists I’ve read about in a while. She is so well constructed that, as strange as her behavior usually is, it doesn’t come off as that peculiar and we feel ourselves identifying with her thoughts. Which, of course, since Michaela is a borderline sociopath, should lead us to delve deeper into ourselves to see why we identify with her at all.
Which brings me to the writing. It really is a skillfully written book, revealing only as much as the protagonist wants us to know and filling in the holes bit by bit. I do have to say I felt the ending was a bit rushed. I would have liked more of an explanation so as to fully grasp what happened between Michaela and her brother, Dave. Since the rest of the book is so well paced, the speed at the end felt wrong.
This is definitely one I’d recommend to lovers of thrillers as well as literary fiction, and it’s not every day I can recommend one book for both of those genres!