THE VENUS COMPLEX by Barbie Wilde, Comet Press, Paperback Â£8.37, eBook Â£3.19 232pp, http://www.cometpress.us/
Reviewed by Chris Limb
In a car accident deliberately initiated by driver Michael Friday his cheating wife is killed and it takes weeks of physiotherapy before he himself is able to return home and once more take up the reins of his job as art history professor at the university.
However it soon becomes clear that he has come back changed.
Through the pages of the journal his shrink suggested he keep, his new obsessions and twisted thoughts steer him off on a far darker path than the one he had hitherto been following and it isnâ€™t long before his violent sexual fantasies spill over into reality and the Syracuse Police Department have a serial killer on their handsâ€¦
The first-person perspective of The Venus Complex place the reader inside the mind of a very unpleasant and dangerous psychopath but such is the dexterity with which these monologues are written that a lot of the time his brand of angry cynicism comes across as sympathetic and humorous. Michael Friday can be witty and likable when he tries.
Of course this makes it all the more shocking when his sardonic musings about the state of the world suddenly become perverse, psychotic and violent. The reader, previously seduced by Fridayâ€™s mocking repartee and almost subconsciously siding with him against an unfair world, finds themselves questioning their own judgement when he starts to show his true face. And yet, as with all true psychopaths, the wit and charm of the central character draws them back in, forcing them to witness the whole affair right up to its disturbing conclusion.
What is also very clever is the way that, despite the book being written in journal form, Wilde is able to infuse the narrative with a subtext whereby the reader can see just how Friday is deluding himself, making excuses in order to give himself a reason to do those things he dare not admit are an end in themselves. Furthermore, at times it is clear that Fridayâ€™s interpretation of the events he witnesses is skewed and faulty, increasingly so as the novel progresses and he descends into the depths of psychopathy.
This is not a novel for the faint of heart and definitely NSFPT (Not Safe For Public Transport), but the skill with which it is written means that some of the darker imagery will haunt the reader long after they turn the final page.