Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: Poison

By Jami Deise

Ever since the 1944 movie Gaslight, female protagonists in suspense thrillers have wondered if they really knew the men they married. But lately, this trope has exploded. Even gritty Boston-based writer Dennis Lehane, best known for working-class men investigating disappearing and murdered children, jumped into this pool with Since We Fell.

Poison, by Galt Niederhoffer, combines this trope with another popular suspense thriller plot—the question of whether the protagonist is insane or whether everyone really is out to get her. Unfortunately, the combination of the two lessens the experience for both.

Cass Connor shares a baby with her second husband, Ryan, and has two children from her late husband. Cass and Ryan have a busy, but seemingly happy life, until Cass finds evidence that Ryan is cheating. Immediately, he turns into a monster, and Cass develops symptoms of poisoning. But when she tries to prove it, she learns that the only people who go to the hospital saying they’ve been poisoned are either victims of domestic violence or paranoid schizophrenics. And with Ryan seemingly picture perfect, everyone believes Cass is crazy.

The reason Gaslight and similar stories work is because the villain is so subtle, the protagonist and the audience can have genuine doubt about his actions. But there’s nothing subtle about Poison or Ryan at all. Instead of being drawn into the mystery, I questioned Cass’s actions and the actions of everyone around her. Why would everyone be so quick to judge a woman who never had any symptoms of mental illness before?

Niederhoffer uses a close third person point of view to tell Cass’s story, but his voice is omniscient and reminded me of Rod Sterling’s in The Twilight Zone. That choice may have been deliberate, but the narration in The Twilight Zone is only used to introduce the story. Niederhoffer uses this voice all the way through, and I found it distracting and off-putting. It was like watching the action through a telescope rather than observing it directly.

Nevertheless, I read it all the way through, mostly to see if my guess about the ending was correct. (It was… unfortunately.) Since Poison was named one of the top crime reads of November by Lit Hub and garnered positive reviews by Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, my opinion may be in the minority. But if you’re a fan of these types of plots, read it and see where you fall.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Galt Niederhoffer:

1 comment:

Erica Robyn said...

Ah bummer, this sounds like it would be a miss for me. Great review!!