OR: Kissing the Beehive

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #21:-

Jonathan Carroll
Vista pb, 251pp, £6.99

As a child in the idyllic town of Crane’s View, Sam Bayer discovered a dead body, that of murdered cheerleader Pauline ‘the Beehive’ Ostrova. Her boyfriend was accused of the crime and later committed suicide in prison. Now a bestselling author in search of an idea for a new book Sam returns to his childhood haunts to investigate the killing, which was never solved to his satisfaction. But others have their own agendas, including possibly the real murderer, wanting Sam to finish the book at any cost. Not the least of Sam’s problems is Veronica Lake, his new girlfriend until the revelations about her past begin to mount up, a woman who desperately wants to be a part of Sam’s life but has no idea how to achieve that end, an emotional yo-yo who swings between moods of incredible generosity and acts of petty cruelty.

While it deftly builds an air of anticipation there are none of the surpanormal intrusions past experience has led us to expect from Carroll. This is his most down to earth novel, dedicated to Stephen King among others, and in part touching on themes raised in stories like Misery and The Body, an elegy for the lost innocence of childhood and exploration of the dangers of obsession, but Carroll deals with the material in his own unique way. Veronica describes herself as Sam’s biggest fan. However this is no leering psychopath in the Annie Wilkes mould but a far more complex and fascinating individual.

The book operates on two levels. In the foreground is a solidly constructed mystery story, complete with beginning, middle and an end calculated to satisfy the most demanding armchair detective. On another level it’s the story of Veronica Lake, so vital and alive, but also capable of acting in a way that sets every alarm bell ringing. How we react to Veronica is in some way a measure of how we deal with life itself. The paradox Carroll identifies is that often the most interesting people are also the most dangerous, ultimately to themselves if not to others. However you read it this is a compelling and deeply satisfying novel from a writer at the top of his form.

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