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Spectacle

Review

Spectacle

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie spends her mornings at Paris’ public morgue. As the daily morgue reporter for Le Petit Journal, the visits are purely business, not pleasure --- well…

The year is 1887 and Nathalie is the youngest reporter for the paper, as well as the only woman to have ever written for the publication. The morgue report is pretty much the bottom level for a journalist, but she’s not complaining. Nathalie is happy to take what she can get for now. Besides, her longtime fascination with death and the handsome morgue worker make this opportunity even better. Her life is going great, if not a little exceptional. That is, until a gnarly murder occurs.

Compelled to touch the glass window showcasing the young girl’s butchered corpse on one of her routine visits to the morgue, everything is altered. Nathalie witnesses the victim’s murder with stunning clarity, but backwards…and from the killer’s perspective. Surely this was just a fluke. A very weird fluke…one that triggered Nathalie to suffer memory loss. She elects to try to forget about this occurrence and just move on with her business. Until a second victim is recovered.

"While I loved Nathalie’s ability and the eventual backstory behind it, I wish the setup for it was different….Although I didn’t love this one, I do foresee myself picking up the second book when it comes out because wow, that cliffhanger!"

 

 

With a serial killer targeting young women and turning them into his perverse idea of artwork, Nathalie is the only one with the ability to catch him. She wants to stop him, but she is challenged with a dilemma. Each time she touches the glass, she loses more and more of her memory. She fears this ability and all the unknowns surrounding it. Before she knows it, she is swept up in all the mysteries coming to surface. Who is this killer? Where did this ability come from and what could it cost her? Does her aunt in the mental asylum have answers? Does her own mother?

At every turn, she is confronted with dark medical experiments, murder, hypnosis, faltering memories, family secrets and feuds. With all these questions piling up, Nathalie doesn’t know who to trust or where to go.  But she needs to figure it all out fast because the killer already knows who --- and where --- she is.

Jodie Lynn Zdrok's SPECTACLE is a book that has been on my radar for months. From the very moment I heard about it, I knew two things:

1. I wanted it: I am a huge fan of books about young female journalists set in a time not of our own. That is the number one way to make me want a book. The second is to have it be about something dark and twisty like say, I don’t know…murder. I was captivated by the story before I even had it in my hands. Add a pseudo power to the mix and I was in paradise. This isn’t even mentioning the fact it takes place in Paris. What most may know as the city of lights or love, I’ve always favored it as a place famous for its death (not just because Jim Morrison was laid to rest there). With its famous Catacombs and history of public morgues, Paris has always had a draw to death. So, I was excited to see the city utilized for that and in general to see this part of history get some recognition.

2. I knew what I wanted from it: As much as I am fascinated by death, I always have my reservations about the way murders can be portrayed, especially as in this case, the murders were reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. In recent years especially, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest --- no, romanticizing --- of serial killers and their crimes. Of course, there have always been people drawn to murderers like moth to flame. However, this phenomenon seems more widespread than ever with our media capitalizing off the interest these cases, these people garner, in exchange for quick money. It is downright distasteful and frankly, terrifying. People seem to forget that these are real-life tragedies with real lives taken, not a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and storylines. I believe one can draw from such a thing, but there are clear boundaries that are all too often crossed. As such, when consuming material that follows or resembles real-life cases in any way, I keep an eye out for certain things. Namely, respect for the victims and repulsion for the killer. In this regard, I was not let down at all.

Nathalie is a young lady with a strong stomach matched with a great interest in the macabre and respect for death and all its facets. There is certainly a right and a wrong way to be into death (murder cases, crime, etc.) and Nathalie finds herself forced to cross that line of wrong in the most intimate way imaginable and try to cope with such an unimaginable thing. But no matter what, Nathalie’s interests and intentions are always clear cut and I cannot express my appreciation for that enough. There is never pity for the killer, a path that could have so easily been gone down. For this reason, I have respect for SPECTACLE.

However, while SPECTACLE earned my respect, it didn’t quite earn my love. I by no means disliked it, but I saw so much potential not being met. I think the main flaw of this book was its pacing and repetition. Now, reading a book driven by murders, I was prepared for a bit of repetition. I knew there were going to be multiple murders and I knew they would follow a certain pattern and likely trigger other events to happen more than once. But that’s not the thing that bothered me. Rather, it was Nathalie’s attitude toward her ability. She is very unaccepting and weary towards it --- that’s fine! A ton can be done with that! But it felt like there was next to nothing. Instead of it being a fleshed-out struggle on learning about and dealing with it, or just really following the internal moral conflict that this ability and her feelings towards it cause her, it was just a lot of going around in the same circle with no added depth at any point. It felt to be just a couple hundred pages of Nathalie going: “I don’t want this! Maybe this is a good thing? I don’t want this!” It just got boring to read and made the book drag. During that time, we could’ve been learning more about the root of her power or focusing more on the murder details, but instead, it was just a lot of Nathalie trying to ignore her power and eating various foods.

While I loved Nathalie’s ability and the eventual backstory behind it, I wish the setup for it was different. To avoid any potential spoilers, I’m going to get as vague as possible here. As it is, I felt a bit confused at just how abruptly this big question was answered and there was relatively little lead up to this reveal. I read it and thought “Wait, what?” but not in a good way. There was one very off-handed mention of the cause prior to the reveal so I was very confused as to who this person was, what they did, and why it was such a big and notable deal. I think this aspect could’ve been better if there was a sort of newspaper-like article about this specific person and the experimentations as a type of prelude before the actual story began, though this is entirely a personal preference --- I prefer a long set-up over a sudden, convenient game-changing piece of information.  Because of all this, it felt like the book didn’t always know what was meant to be happening. As though the book were a mystery to itself.

Although I didn’t love this one, I do foresee myself picking up the second book when it comes out because wow, that cliffhanger! Ultimately, this is a fascinating idea and I do want to see it fleshed out. And I do believe that many of the problems I had with SPECTACLE are easy fixes that come along with experience. Even my feeling that the book didn’t always know where it wanted or needed to go, after reading the ending, I’m near certain that Zdrok knows exactly what it is she plans to do in the follow-up, and SPECTACLE was more a prelude to the next novel rather than a standalone itself.

I think this would be great for fans of Kerri Maniscalco’s JACK THE RIPPER and for fans of the web series Buzzfeed: Unsolved.

Reviewed by Olivia Will on March 19, 2019

Spectacle
by Jodie Lynn Zdrok