Creepy doings in Washington State, where a vulnerable 15-year-old girl kidnapped by a twisted French expatriate in San Francisco painfully comes of age, and where, years later, her younger sister looks for answers to her disappearance.
Ryder's first novel is basically a vampire saga with snooty art collectors and forgers substituting for the vampires. The protagonist is wealthy Tristan Mourault, a collector of females who woos young Karen Miller through a series of "accidental" encounters and convinces her to escape from her abusive family. After drugging her, he uses her blood to leave fake traces of her death, renames her Gisele after his late wife and, posing as her father, gives her a whirlwind tour of New York. With a narrative leap of 15 years, the book moves to Washington and introduces us to her beautiful and inquisitive daughter Nicola, who thinks Tristan is her Grand-père and Gisele's haunted husband Luke is her father. The plot centers on a secret series of nude paintings of Gisele, whose sexual awakening arrives the same time as Tristan's impotence. Secrets are revealed, covers are blown and Gisele mysteriously drowns. Who did her in? Plotting not being Ryder's strong suit, you may not care. The novel, which takes its title from a Rimbaud poem, gets off to a beguiling start with its nicely subdued sense of menace and dark intrigue. But it fails to build in intensity, relies too much on contrivances to stay afloat, and the characters are disappointingly superficial.
A modern gothic that emits a creepy glow in establishing itself but reveals the unsteady hand of a first-time novelist as the story unfolds.