A sharp young woman and a disillusioned heir team up in this mystery novel.
It’s New York Fashion Week, and the Visage show ends with a shocking display: a drugged supermodel stumbling down a runway wearing a coat made out of a dead body. Suspicion quickly falls on the LeClaire family: Marie, the unstable daughter of model agency tycoon Margaux, is Visage’s creative director. Margaux’s son Cecil has fled New York to run a country B&B, but he’s quickly drawn into the case when an amputated hand arrives in his mail. The body coat and the hand both come from Annabelle Leigh, Cecil’s childhood love, who disappeared a decade ago. Cecil realizes that someone may be framing him or his family, and he tries to retrace Annabelle’s steps himself. Enter Ava Germaine, a young woman employed by Visage founder Tazia Perdonna to trace crimes in the fashion industry. The technologically savvy Ava suffers from muscular dystrophy, ironically giving her a skeletal look desirable in high fashion. Ava and Cecil’s paths dovetail as they investigate Annabelle’s disappearance, and more models die in strange circumstances. The two seek “VD,” a shady underworld figure who lures aspiring models into sex trafficking and was likely the last person to see Annabelle alive. Cecil’s own family wealth, he discovers, is derived from the grotesque abuse of models. Moyer (All Sleep, 2016) casts light on the very real issues of model abuse and sex trafficking, but the book’s bizarre characters, complex set pieces, and continuous body horror tend to overshadow her story’s important implications. Gonzo elements include Margaux using a phallic cane to eat ice cream, a climactic battle in a brothel room full of toy trains and cotton candy, and a man sneaking into a morgue to apply makeup, pose, and photograph a corpse. Unsettlingly, many of the LGBT characters are rapists or rape enablers (though straight characters barely have a better track record). Moyer often muses on topics such as Instagram, embalmment, and class difference; these reflections are theoretically relevant to the book’s themes but in practice slow down its plot.
A memorable, deeply strange thriller that takes a gonzo approach to real-world fashion problems.