A dreamlike novel of good and evil mind games.
Bad girl Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder and is being interrogated by a doctor about her proclivity for offing bad guys, especially actual or accused child molesters. She claims to be a member of a secret organization whose job it is to engage in vigilante justice by killing evil people. No guilt, no accountability, no consequences. Until her arrest, Jane had been one of the most efficient killers in the organization and had both impressed and distressed her mentors by killing two evildoers rather than one in her probation period. (She was supposed to make a choice.) Ruff (Set This House in Order, 2003, etc.) structures his novel largely as a series of dialogues between doctor and “patient,” though as Jane’s obsessions become more intense and her rationalizations more acute, she engages in increasingly bizarre and paranoid monologues. In extended flashbacks, we learn of Jane’s troubled past, of her dysfunctional mother and of her contentious relationship with her brother Phil, whom she used to terrorize with tales of gypsy child-robbers. Along the way, she links up with a creepy cast of characters who haunt her nightmarish life, including harlequins, clowns, a feisty homeless woman and the sociopathic owner of a railroad hobby shop. She eventually meets “bad Jane,” who opines that “evil…is just so much cooler than even you know.” This double works for The Force, a counter-organization dedicated to the destruction of the good. In a dizzying set of final reversals, we learn once again that nothing is as it seems, for the doctor and the “twin” Janes have their own duplicitous agendas.
Despite the metaphysical trappings of Existential Big Themes, it’s hard to care too deeply about the characters, who remain intellectual cardboard cutouts.