LAMIA by Tristan Travis


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Sick, overblown stuff: a long, implausible, fitfully absorbing novel--part police procedural, part occult-horror--about a woman, possessed by a powerful she-demon spirit, who is murder-mutilating rapists and would-be rapists in 1960s Chicago. Who is ""the Reaper,"" the psycho who kills (mysterious heart failure) and grossly cuts up men in and around Chicago? That's the case for black cop John Valjohn, a part-time collage artist. And his first theory (a homosexual killer) falls apart when large quantities of vaginal fluid are found on the victims. Could the Reaper be a woman. . . or women? Well, Travis meanwhile is introducing us at length to Crescent O'Leary: child-of-rape, brutalized orphan, childhood rape victim (graphically reenacted), a Chicago nursing student who one year is miraculously transformed from a lumpish dullard to a bright beauty (the book's best sequence). So we soon get the idea that sweet Crescent is perhaps not what she seems--especially when, by feeble plot contrivance, she meets and is fallen in love with by. . . none other than John Valjohn. Then, even more dubiously, Valjohn marries Crescent (despite the fact that she declines to be touched in any way) and gradually becomes aware that the Reaper clues are pointing to his own virginal wife: ""Who--what had he married? What preposterous interloper from God knows what dark, Stygian pit?"" And finally, after seeing that Crescent is indeed a she-demon (""She is a constrictor, a colossal python flexing her cervical might""), Valjohn quite understandably goes bonkers. . . while Crescent/Lamia goes on decimating lustful men. First-novelist Travis shows a measure of basic storytelling talent--in the police work, in the nursing-school scenes--but he pads out the thin demon-killer premise here to 400+ pages with repetition and gratuitous sex/gore kinkiness: the butchering of a dog, sex with a corpse, masturbation-masochism with mosquitoes, etc. And, despite the supposed anti-rapist message behind Crescent's murder of lechers, the actual theme--considering the lovingly detailed violence, the consistently ugly portrayal of heterosexuality, and all that cervix-as-python rhetoric--seems to be a fear and hatred of women. Foul quasi-pornography, then; but those who found Lawrence Sanders' comparable The Third Deadly Sin too genteel may find this a source of bloody titillation.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1982
Publisher: Dutton