James’ psychological thriller debut offers the tale of a young woman in an interrogation room, recapping a drug-fueled crime spree spanning nine U.S. states.
Texas cops have a disheveled, bloody girl at the station for questioning. The unnamed girl’s been eluding the law for quite some time with her sometimes-lover Noah. The couple steal liquor and boost cars, criminal acts that ultimately escalate into bank robberies and burning down a church. These deeds lead to a death or two, including an accidental shooting in the course of a robbery. The girl’s probably being insincere in her statement, as it’s clearly a chore for her not to laugh when Officer Gibson treats her like the victim. But authorities really want to know where still-on-the-lam Noah is, and a fed known only as the Agent (or simply Agent) isn’t as easy for the girl to toy with as Gibson. He’s blunt and to the point: is Noah even alive? Alcohol and LSD, however, may have muddled the girl’s memories, as she debates whether she’s remembering certain events or if they’re only in her mind. Agent’s simultaneously working the case of a serial killer calling himself Alighieri; his method is decapitation. But before Agent can reach the truth, Alighieri’s and the girl’s paths intersect in a frightening and unexpected way. The purposefully ambiguous narrative complements the girl’s hazy recollections. Seeing her green-eyed, “grimacing twin” in a bathroom, for example, could be an acid trip, and the first-person perspective makes it clear that at least her confusion’s genuine. At the same time, additional points of view ground the story, like Alighieri on the hunt or Agent at different murder scenes. James’ frenzied writing style is staggering. The girl’s downtime at a quarry, for one, is just as exhilarating as the couple fleeing cops: “My limbs were pulled apart with violent force from the churning water as it surged from my intrusion.” Readers hoping for a nice, clean wrap-up to explain everything may be disappointed. Regardless, it’s a suitable ending for Agent, Alighieri, and the girl, despite not having all the answers when the story’s over.
An unreliable narrator maintains a dubious tone that still manages to electrify.