In her new thriller Daemon Seer, Charleston, IL, author Mary Maddox gets just the kind of running start that I like, engaging the reader in an intriguing situation on page one.
Lu Darlington’s boss confronts her with a true-crime book, “Professor of Death,” having figured out that she was the girl stalked by this serial killer a decade before. Those are the events of Maddox’s previous thriller, Talion, but she has structured this sequel as a stand-alone suspense novel, and having Lu’s nightmarish past catch up with her makes a perfect jumping-on point.
No longer an impoverished and endangered young girl, Lu now works for a company that cyber-spies on corporate employees in a shadowy manner, even as she herself is spied upon by shadowy supernatural forces she thought she’d left behind a decade before. It’s subtle nod to the predatory nature of the universe in which Lu lives.
Tempered by her horrific childhood, Lu has grown up practical and alert, capable of facing simultaneous threats.
And like Dick Francis, Maddox is clever enough to weave her protagonist’s background skills into the plot in useful ways. Learning that her friend Lisa is being stalked by a psycho cop, Lu is able to wield her cyber-spying as a counter-measure.
I was never quite sure, in the first novel, whether the entities that haunt Lu are supernatural or manifestations of some multiple personality disorder. But now, it’s pretty clear that these daemons are independent beings. “Daemon” is a term for semi-divine beings in Greek and Roman mythology. In Lu’s world, involvement with them puts human beings in a position roughly akin to that of a small animal dashing back and forth on an interstate highway.
The beautiful Talion tells her that she must breed for him, subjecting her to pain and passion to show her he holds the whip hand. But Lu — realizing that the entity need not have told her his plans at all, but could merely have manipulated her in to doing what he wants — reasons that he therefore must need something from her, some kind of assent that she might be able to deny him if she can deduce what it is.
Behind Maddox’s narrative, but never impeding it, is a recognizable 21st century America of economically marginalized people — forced to take lousy, morally suspect employment, vulnerable to trumped-up charges. Their quiet desperation is as familiar to them as dried sweat on a Walmart t-shirt, and it’s another factor that heightens the odds against them in their struggle to survive. The very tired ordinariness of their world makes its fantastic elements seem more real.
Adding zest to the recipe is Maddox’s gift for a lyrical phrase: “Golden light stretched my shadow across the patchy grass;” “Her fear skittered through my body and became my fear.”
As Lu faces threats from adversaries both human and inhuman, both unnerving and uncanny, Maddox keeps ratcheting up the suspense. When Lu finds herself in a bidding war between daemons, it turns out that being pursued and trapped by a sadistic sex killer cop isn’t even the most serious of her troubles…
Both Maddox’s Lu Darlington supernatural thrillers are available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Booksellers on line.