Love is Red by Sophie Jaff (Harper, May 12, 2015) Looking for a very creepy read? Love is Red has you covered. Katherine Emerson is like many others looking for someone to love and for someone to love her, but she’s not an unhappy person. She lives with a roommate Andrea, and her four year old son Lucas, and her friendship with Andrea, and the connection she has with Lucas are both important parts of her life. When she meets the mysterious Sael at a party, in a very unorthodox way, she’s not sure what to think. He’s alluring, yes, but there’s a distance about him, a coldness. Soon after meeting Sael, she meets his best friend David, who is everything Sael isn’t: warm, friendly, and “comfortable.” However, Katherine soon falls for the unusual allure of Sael, and finds herself going on a series of “dates” with Sael, sharing stories from her life that she’d otherwise never think of sharing. What started as an awkward bit of social angst soon turns to terror when she starts seeing visions of women covered in blood, and with a serial killer dubbed The Sickle Man on the loose in New York City, the visions take on an even more ominous connotation. Then there are those pennies lined up against the wall in her room, and little Lucas’s insistence that he’d never come in her room uninvited…
It’s immediately evident, from the first page, that we’re dealing with an unusual killer, and that Katherine is in danger, but why? Katherine narrates her passages in first person, but the killer’s passages are interspersed with sequences that describe feelings as colors, tastes, and sounds, and personally, I really enjoyed this. Here’s an example:
“Addiction is metallic; it sounds like a million pinball machines. It tastes like the last crumbs at the bottom of the packet, of salt-and-sugar-stained fingers, it smells like a damp shoulder pressed up close in a crowd, it feels like dew-formed droplets sliding down your fingers, it crawls like the itch in the small of your back.”
This is actually a huge clue as to the nature of the killer (althought you may not know it until you get close to the end), and the author plants these throughout the novel, like insidious bread crumbs. The killer is compared to David Berkowitz, the killer otherwise known as the “Son of Sam,” that held New York City in his murderous grip in the summer of 1976, and the references to the cloying heat of the city perfectly capture that stifling horror, and an entire city’s panic. Love is Red is an absorbing story that, strangely, IS a love story, but also a look at our increasingly tenuous connections to others in a society obsessed with social media. One’s panic is everyone’s panic. One’s sorrow is everyone’s sorrow, even as we distance ourselves from tragedy in order to live our lives. I know I’ve already said it, but this is a very creepy book, and coupled with a killer’s seeming ability to enter anyone’s home at will, makes for a shudder worthy read, with the supernatural aspects only heightening the building sense of dread. Keep an eye on Sophie Jaff, and read this one with the lights on.