A stripper becomes a med student after suffering a near-fatal attack by the titular Toro, but the past has an odd way of resurfacing.
As a single mother to two, Allie Parsons pays the bills by stripping and blows off steam by taking home handsome strangers. Unfortunately, one of those blue-eyed strangers turns out to be Toro, a serial killer who gouges out Allie’s left eye before she accidentally fatally shoots her son and scares Toro off. Allie’s mother, Bea, who has never approved of her daughter’s lifestyle, attempts to seize custody of Allie’s daughter as soon as she’s out of the hospital. However, Allie rallies after the attack and retains custody of her daughter; eventually, Allie attains a medical degree and a job in the coroner’s office. She thinks Toro has been captured and killed when her supervisor, Dr. Leopold Mann, explains that he worked on the case and successfully identified the body, but then she receives a strange note on her car windshield that uncomfortably reminds her of her attacker. Is Toro still on the loose? More importantly, is the past ever really buried or only paused? Although Schwalbe’s prose has a fair number of clichés—“Despite being bone-tired, she couldn’t sleep”—the plotting is unusual, the character relationships atypical. While the novel lacks the gravitas and nuanced character studies of, say, a James Ellroy novel, the gritty situations and unusual attention to medical details (Schwalbe is a real-life anesthesiologist) help distinguish it from run-of-the-mill thrillers. Allie is a complex woman somewhat hampered by the on-the-nose prose she’s wrapped in: “Allie, listen to me. I’ve watched you since you were old enough to toddle around the nursery. You’re one of the most intelligent and kindest people I’ve ever seen. Your mother told me you scored in the genius range on those IQ tests.” Still, her unusual life story and responses to challenging situations make her a noteworthy, fully fleshed-out heroine who, despite the difficulties, manages to pull off some hard-earned triumphs.
Shines a light on criminal and bureaucratic complexities in an unusual, poignant narrative that would benefit from a more polished style.