Monday, April 30, 2012

Well-Written Novel Disappoints...

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The Taker

Alma Katsu

I had mixed feelings about this book from the beginning to end...

When I encountered the writing of Katsu, and found it very well done, I just kept on reading until I finished the book.

Perhaps it was the title and the cover that got me thinking...I now see that there have been a number of covers used for the book. I made an assumption that The Taker was the lead female--is she or isn't she? You won't really know from the first book, or at least I wasn't sure...

I prefer the cover that is now being used...

It's reminiscent of the location of much of the story but still gives the gothic, mysterious feel that is important.

The book begins in the present when a woman is brought into the emergency room and Luke Findley, who is one of the few doctors in St. Andrew, Maine, The woman immediately begins to talk to Luke, seeking his assistance in getting her out of the hospital!

Did I tell you she was wanted for murder?

And that ultimately Luke did help her, not only to escape but to then travel with her to Canada?

Again I formed an assumption that the woman, later called Lanny, had been able to mesmerize Luke...truthfully, I don't know for sure since he seemed to act correctly. Could he have fallen immediately in love?

Lanny certainly was not in love with him. In fact, she had just killed the only man she had ever loved... Jonathan had been her childhood friend and later lover. But he was also quite a handsome young man and had many of the young girls and sometimes wives, offering their affection.

Lanny was jealous of all others, but was able to remain aloof to his faults and remain his one close friend, no matter what...

The story of Lanny and Jonathan takes readers back to the early 1800s, where Jonathan gets one woman pregnant and then also Lanny. Her father quickly makes arrangements for Lanny to go away and give up the baby. However, she never makes it there. She is found on the street by a small group of people of about the same age and offered a place to stay for the night...

And there she meets Adair... Let me share a short excerpt:
"When I woke up, I was lying on a bed on my back, and I was nearly being suffocated by the man hovering over me. His face was unnaturally close to mine, his hot breath raking my face. I shuddered under his weight and the insistent slamming of his body against mine, and heard myself  moan and cry in pain, but the pain was detached, blunted for now by the drug. I knew, instinctively, that it would all come back to me later. I tried to call out for help and a sweaty hand covered my mouth, salty fingers pushed past my lips. "Quiet, pet," the man on top of me grunted, eyes half closed..."
Alma Katsu is a wonderful storyteller. And if you enjoy somebody telling a graphic sensuous, yet violent story, then you will undoubtedly find this tale of horror one that will fascinate you. Her writing is literary in nature and speaks of the past magic and alchemy that we have all enjoyed in other historically set books. I have to recognize that talent at the same time that, personally, I felt that there was too much telling and not enough action. Since Lanny is sharing her past with Luke, the first personal account is insufficiently relieved with actual dialogue. Though I don't profess to enjoy reading about violent actions, on the other hand, reading somebody telling us about that abuse, or even of having sex failed to pull me actively into the events. Some have said they were bored; I won't say that completely, but I did feel short-changed. The title, The Taker, implied to me much more action. I was disappointed that I never really got to "see" the action Adair supposedly did.

Perhaps because the violence would have been beyond our capabilities to accept? Yes, probably.  Still, I felt cheated. There were other minor characters that had undergone similar circumstances as Lanny but we never really learned about them; one, in particular, tries to help Lanny discover what is actually going to happen and help her to escape, only to be murdered. We learn of this from those who didn't see that killing...

Can we allude to actions so often that their impact loses any emotional commitment? Can we glamorize what was an undying love, supposedly, while the character admits to enjoying the sadistic side of the relationship she was involved in? I found too many questions unanswered in this first book. But I am not enticed to read further...


Alma Katsu was born in Alaska and raised near Concord, Massachusetts. She holds a B.A. from Brandeis University and an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins writing program. The Taker, her debut novel, is first in a trilogy. The Reckoning, second in the series, is forthcoming in hardcover. She lives with her husband in Virginia. Visit her online at

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  1. Good review. Tells me what I need to know.

  2. While I do read some literary suspense and a few other genres, horror has never been a genre I enjoy--books or movies.

    I prefer literary pieces that pull me into the story by putting me on the spot--there are quite a few of those. While it's true a good story is a good blend of show and tell, too much telling ruins it.

    I had several who said I should really read this, but I couldn't get into the story and I tried. I agree, it was beautiful in description and turn of phrase.


  3. Thanks Sheila!

    Sia, I don't do horror much either...thanks for letting me know your thoughts too!