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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The May Queen Murders: (Sadly) More Drippy than Murder-y

The May Queen Murders, Sarah Jude (HMH)

Wow! What an amazing cover on this book, right?  Absolutely dripping with Gothic horror promise.  Yeah.  Sad, that, because The May Queen Murders does very little to live up to that promise, exploiting bizarre stereotypes and building blind alley scare moments on its way to a seriously B-Movie conclusion.  Or, rather, several B-Movie conclusions.  (Sorry!)  Messy and disappointing.

After a brief and terrific flash of an opening, The May Queen Murders begins in earnest, with the introduction of Ivy, the self-styled plain-Jane narrator of the book, and her “don’t-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful” cousin Heather.  Not a unique pairing, but I am struggling so hard to understand these people and where they are supposed to be coming from that that’s the least of my concerns.  Watching them go through their days is no help:  lots of “ain’ts” are tossed around, and Ivy is prone to declaring her intent to “bear witness” and quaint things like that.  Why?  I don’t know, and no one seems to care; she is treated like a sensitive child by her family.  Ivy is also trying to keep silent Grandma Mamie’s ancient ways and wisdoms alive, so there’s that.  She is gently mocked by Heather for this dedication, so it’s plain that the community is not of one mind, whatever Ivy may think.

Then there are the encounters between the Glen folk and the town residents, mainly the teens because they all attend school together.  These encounters are uniformly – and also needlessly – confrontational, especially since there is apparently little difference between the two groups of students.  The Glen teens swear like truckers, smoke pot grown in the Glen, snitch alcohol from their elders and, in a scene I found fairly notable, describe early sex acts that I am pretty sure adults would not share so openly, and with nary a blush.  Brava for the sexual freedom/know thyself moment, but again I ask:  Who are these people?

One of the first serious stumbling blocks I hit on the way to my Wall of Disbelief was composed of Ivy describing how outsiders used to come to the Glen to have their chickens butchered and deplucked.  Excuse me?  I know that chickens are today’s new favorite backyard producer of fresh food, but were there really that many “town farmers” needing chicken butchering?  Because a farmer, even a non-weird-sect one, knows how to kill a chicken.  And deplucking?  Were the feathers being put back on?  Maybe this is just an editing mix-up, but it was just part of building that wall that made me go, “huh?”  

Regardless of what first brought the Glen folks together generations ago to eschew mainstream society, today they seem bound together mainly by long skirts, superstition, braids and poor electrical wiring.  Oh, and possibly being eaten by a mysterious scream-y thing in the woods … once-t in a while.  (No biggie.  We like it this way!)  So are they just isolated so they can be killed more easily?  Hmm.  Could be.  The end result just feels tremendously contrived.

Ms. Jude writes with emotion and there were some great descriptive scenes, but her attempt to create a believable Glen community left me feeling cold.  So many things just reminded me of a B-Movie from the 60’s:  Two lovely young girls (1), in a backward community (2), in the woods (3), where unexplained deaths are occurring (4), experiencing sex for the first time (5) (bonus here!), repeatedly going where they should not (6) (7) (8), while repeated scary things occur (9) (10) (11), etc.   At first I was afraid for Ivy, that she would be caught napping on a grave in the forbidden cemetery (Ikr?) or get caught out late washing sheets in the river (that's yes, to electric lights; no, to washing machines), but then I just felt annoyed.  I just wanted it to make sense!  No such luck here.  Sadly, I liked this one better before I opened that fabulously creepy cover.

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