CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS by Laura Benedict is a supernatural suspense, a genre that I only touch lightly here at Fantasy Debut. Usually, I like heroic tales of high adventure, which this book is decidedly not. But I loved it anyway. I couldn't put it down.
CALLING is a complex tale about three women, Alice, Roxanne and Del. Alice is the ultimate follower--she would do anything that her hero, Roxanne, says. Roxanne relishes this power, and like all power, it corrupts her. Del is Roxanne's supportive best friend. And Roxanne is the only thing that keeps the three of them together. The story starts when they are thirteen-year-old girls. Roxanne cooks up a ritual--a spell--that will bring them a boyfriend. Del thinks they're just playing. Alice knows they're not.
Jump ahead about twenty years to a very unpleasant character, a young man named Dillon. Dillon has just had a car accident with a well-dressed man with an unusual name--Verick. It turns out that Dillon's sister is Thad's lover. Who is Thad? Thad is Alice's husband. And Verick has targeted Dillon for a reason. The whole book is like this. All these little connections that don't become obvious until many pages later. It was like trying to trace a spider's web. Not just any spider--a black widow. Which spins a web that looks like nothing more than a tangle of silk.
And then we have Romero, who turns out to be a former priest. Who turns out to have been a teacher where young Alice, Roxanne and Del went to school. And we have the sin that drew them all together years ago. And another sin that brings them together once again, years later.
One thing interesting about the horror genre is that it is not afraid to work with Christian elements. This novel has many Christian elements, unapologetically presented. It also has elements of Santeria, which is a blend of Christian saint worship and West African religious traditions. Satan is a character in this novel, and he is absolutely chilling. CALLING is about a deal with the devil--and not the sort of deal you might suspect. And it doesn't have the sort of punishments you might expect. Not all of the sinners die--and not all of the good characters live.
CALLING is not for the faint of heart. It is not a happy book. I would have preferred that there not be so many deaths at the end, but the author knew when to stop. I expected another death, but he lived. The author may take some heat for underage sex here--underage sex with an adult man--but I think she handled it well. But there is a hero by the end after all-someone I never expected. Bravo for him. It was great.
This is the sort of novel that I like to read again in order to find answers that eluded me the first time. It's one for the keeper shelf.