Sunday, August 25, 2013
Cache a Predator - Book Review
Cache a Predator by Michelle Weidenbenner is a mystery novel dealing with injustice, loss, fear, love and psychology. Her mixing of the psychological element with mystery and crime adds to the richness of her novel.
Cache a Predator opens with a shocking scene, where an unknown person mutilates a dead man by cutting off his penis. This first part is narrated in the first person; and throughout the novel we get to see certain acts and scenes through the eyes of the mutilator; the “pecker-whacker”.
The novel also focuses on Brett Reed, a police officer in the town of Hursey Lake, who is divorced and whom the courts unjustly gave the custody of his five-year-old daughter, Quinn, to her alcoholic mother, Ali. We get to see glimpses of an alcoholic’s life, and how it affects them and all around them. We also meet counsellor Sarah Grinwald, whose troubled past has led her to taking up a job that allows her to take care of people. There is also the irony that despite her job, Sarah is not a good judge of character.
Cache a Predator has some beautiful imagery, which is seen in the opening lines of the novel. The description of a graveyard in particular has a dark but beautiful image. “The way [The tombstones] were lined in rows, with husbands and wives side by side and children lying near their parents, made it look like a village, like shadows of square people hiding and watching without emotion. Like me.” (p.6)
Having a soft spot for alliteration and oxymoron, I particularly liked the phrase “sweet sickly scent” on p. 12.
Cache a Predator opens with a gruesome but powerful first chapter. Chapter 2, on the other hand, starts in a totally different place with new people .We meet Quinn, her cop father and her jobless, alcoholic mother. We are also introduced to the 'injustices' of the justice system and how it has favoured an alcoholic mother over a civil servant, a police officer, whose main fault is having a bad temper.
The novel takes the reader through the life of an alcoholic. Ali’s house is a dump with cigarettes and garbage littering the floor, and both her daughter and dog are unfed. Reflecting Brett Reed’s frustration with Ali’s behaviour, Weidenbenner uses another gruesome but highly creative image in “He clenched his jaw, took a few eggs out of the fridge, and whisked them, beating them until they frothed over the sides of the bowl like the blood foaming in his veins.” (p. 19)
The so-called 'protective order' is highly ironic. Who is it supposed to 'protect'? The drunk mother? Or the neglected child? And from whom?!
Throughout the novel, Brett claims that his father had abandoned him when he – Brett – needed his support. It is my opinion that this fear of abandonment further drives Brett’s protective instincts towards his daughter. The reader is also given a lot of evidence of the opposite or that he has changed.
Weidenbenner maintains good tension and relief in her novel. She uses light comic scenes or discussions to ease her readers’ growing tension. An example is seen after the police, particularly Brett and his partner Clay, find Jake Hunter, the first mutilated victim. The whole scene though absurd and serious is funny. Jake tells the officers regarding his cut-off penis “Easy for you to say. Yours is intact.” Shortly after, Brett jokes, saying “Makes me want to wear iron briefs under lock and key.” (p. 34).
In chapter 5, the reader realises the reason the “pecker-whacker” does what he does. He does not choose his victims at random. And although one believes that it is a crime to mutilate another person, the reader cannot help but sympathise with this perpetrator, who is punishing sex offenders by cutting off their most prized organ; he is a criminal with a cause.
Sarah Grinwald is a counsellor, who works some children cases with Child Protective Services (CPS). Although she's supposed to remain unbiased, we see her biased against Quinn's cop father at first, but later changes that bias. Sarah, like many characters in this novel, has had a troubled past, which, at first, affects her judgement of Brett and we see her trying to fit him in her preconceived notions of bad fathers. However, she cannot help but notice the similarities between Quinn and her father and Ali's evidently unhealthy and unsafe environment.
In chapter 8, we learn a bit about Ali's past and upbringing. She's not an alcoholic without reason. Sarah explains to Brett how Ali views the world and how her past has affected her. Weidenbenner's use of psychology and past experiences is commendable as it gives reasons why each character is who they are and why they act the way they do.
It is ironic that justice system makes things more difficult for its civil servants when compared to regular citizens. The courts favour the mothers over the fathers, even if the former were unfit. “Sarah knew the courts, and typically the mothers came out way ahead of the fathers. Unless they could prove Ali was unfit, Brett didn’t stand much of a chance.” (p. 123)
Narration in Cache a Predator shifts between the first person perspective of the “pecker-whacker” and the third person perspective, which either describes events or acts as a means to reveal certain things through the characters’ eyes. One scene is described once through Brett’s eyes and once through Sarah’s.
An important character, for me, in the novel is Brett’s partner, Clay. He is both the sense of reason and light humour in the novel. He is much calmer and more reasonable than his partner. He gives a sense of sanity to the story and acts as a reference for comparison with Brett.
The “pecker-whacker” obviously has bravery issues; it's clear that they’ve been bullied before, and they admitted to being sexually abused. In addition, there are some instances that reveal this person’s slightly childish tendencies. They are also convinced that all fathers are bad; at a certain point they cannot tell right from wrong and cannot distinguish between their father and Brett.
We also meet the abominable character of Mrs. Greer, Ali’s mother. She appears twice in the novel and always succeeds to infuriate both Brett and the reader. When Ali crashes her car and kills a young woman, Mrs. Greer tells Brett “Some guy came by to visit her. Said she killed his fiancée and he’s going to sue her for everything she has. Said Ali took away his entire future.” She sniffled. “I told him he needed to talk to you. That you were responsible, not Ali.”
Quinn's ordeal, being kidnapped, reunites the Reed family and brings the community together.
I enjoyed the police-work and crime language used in Cache a Predator. It feels like reading a bit of CSI.
Weidenbenner’s use of imagery never fails to surprise and inspire the reader. Another particularly beautifully-crafted image is on p. 171; “Thoughts swirled in Brett's head like dead leaves in a tornado”. Another image is seen in the closing lines of the novel; “The grass showed its face, reminding Brett of life and how things thaw, grow, and change.” – like people.
The dialogue in Cache a Predator is precise and nicely done conveying bits of relief when needed. The characters are realistic with no character being perfect. They all have the problems of their past which shape their present. The plot is held together well with a quick but good pace, and with good rise-and-fall in tension. There are, also, many interesting images throughout the novel.
I have given Cache a Predator an overall rating of 4.75 stars.