J. M. tells the tale of a rape victim who sets off on an ambitious revenge quest in this debut thriller.
Masha’el Ramaz, a 26-year-old-graduate student born in Saudi Arabia and raised in California, is grieving her recently deceased father by a motel swimming pool when a handsome young man approaches. He seems only to want to swim, so she fails to notice that he slips something into her drink. “How much time had passed?” she wonders as the drug takes its effect. “Was it that beautiful pool that banished her worries, the entrancing motion of the swimmer? Or some angel enfolding her?” The man is Downey Dekker, a record-setting competitive swimmer and serial date rapist fresh from his own high school graduation. He violently assaults Masha’el and leaves her at the motel. There is enough evidence to get Dekker arrested, but the subsequent trial—and Dekker’s acquittal—are just the beginning to this story. Masha’el is unwilling to simply remain a victim. Instead, she takes justice into her own hands. She isn’t merely going to take revenge on Dekker. That would be too simple. Instead she decides to use Dekker as an instrument for a much greater revenge. This is no generic revenge thriller, to be sure. The prose possesses an anesthetic lyricism that harkens more to contemporary literary novels than to the noirish conventions of crime novels: “Someone told her where she was in the world. She rejected it. She was twenty-six years old, she was told, and she was halfway through a two-year degree program that she had absentmindedly expanded to three. There existed drugs, she contemplated.” Masha’el is a character of darkness and complexity, a protagonist that acts like a comic book villain without ever losing an ounce of verisimilitude. The novel’s choppy structure and unwillingness to hold the reader’s hand makes for a refreshingly challenging, cerebral read. The brutal rape scenes will put off some, but thriller fans with strong stomachs will find in Masha’el Ramaz a compelling antihero for our time.
A taut, inventive revenge story.