Spirit of the Straightedge, by Babs Lakey

spirit-of-the-straightedge-by-babs-lakey coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Futures Mysterious
Anthology Magazine
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by Eugene Wiley

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It may be that we live in one of the most self-consciously violent societies in the world. American culture flirts, seduces, enthralls and intimidates with violence. You’re not apt to pick up a newspaper or click over to the evening news without hearing headline after headline of brutality. No few box-office blockbusters are violent in nature. Though we’re hypnotized by depictions and descriptions of violence, we’re also morally aware enough to realize that our violent impulses are dangerous and at some indelible level, crimes. Fiction often deals with our paradoxical propensity to punish violence with violence — “eye for an eye” justice, meted out by our courts, or by vigilante means.

Babs Lakey’s debut novel, Spirit of the Straightedge, is a grim, violent, pulse-pounding study of sexual deviance, homicidal rage, and dark revenge. The prose is terse, tense, and twisted. You may find yourself cringing at some of the more explicit scenes of rape, child abuse, and murder. You’ll also find yourself quickly sympathetic to the novel’s protagonist, Elsie Sanders, whose plight ranges through the full gamut of abuse directed toward women — from a psychologically abusive father to sexual abuse at the hands of a physician. A plight which, when viewed through the lens of living reality, is sadly more representative of fact than fancy.

There’s a strong sense of sincerity and purpose embodied in the arc of the novel’s hunted-becomes-the hunter plot and a courageous confessional impulse inherent in Lakey’s inspiration to tell this tale specifically the way she tells it.

Spirit of the Straightedge has a special sort of flavor, blending elements of “slasher fiction” with psychological suspense, crime-detective, mystery, and enough villainous intensity to bring a taste of near-supernatural horror. For the most part Lakey’s wry, broiling, and sinister prose style succeeds, but there are a few rough transitions from one character POV to another, some with changes in narrative tense, as well. A smattering of jigsaw flashbacks may also may draw some readers briefly out of the story.

Otherwise, the novel is fast-paced and electrifying. The portrayal of life in a world of violence, much of it directed at women, is stark, poignant, and fearlessly honest.

This novel is the first in a projected series. I wonder if Lakey will find enough new angles and twists to sustain the level of intensity evidenced in this first book. Looking into Elsie Sanders’ dark world is certainly a frightening and soul-wrenching experience. If Lakey intends to set her heroine on a long road to redemption through revenge, I’d be willing to tag along, but I’m going to watch my back!

I would definitely not recommend this book or series for anyone under the age of twenty-one, or the faint of heart of any age. Like any meaningful novel of violence, revenge, and psychological depravity, Spirit of the Straightedge is a mirror where the reader meets his or her own reflection — but not the face we warmly recognize, but the face we most fear — the face most of us would go to any length to keep hidden from our friends, families, co-workers, selves.

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