Southern Gothic: Dale Wiley
Many people want to be famous authors and consider their writing to be equal to that of the masters or New York Times top authors. But, what would you do if a famous writer came to your front door and handed you a rework of novel you wrote, knowing he rewrote it and offered you fame and fortune? What would you do if after you read this novel and understood the messages within it decide to either accept his offer and make it your own or turn it down because you think it is morally wrong?
Michael Black is not quite right in the head but he is a unique best selling author. Using a double novel in alternating chapters the reader and the main character get to know the novel, read their conversations and that of the novel written by Black called the Red Ribbon. This author creates two separate worlds one of a young woman not really quite that confident in her own work yet riveted by what she reads and in awe by his appearance. Why did he disappear? What is he hiding and why her?
The novel written by Black plays an important role in this novel as we meet the main characters Leah and her husband whose relationship deteriorates throughout the novel and where Black’s own abuse treatment of women comes through within the novel as we get to know Meredith Harper his victim you might say as related in the main part of the novel and we get to know her as a hopeful author who just wants her words read. As we get to know the man in the second novel and his goal to get to uncover the artifacts in a place called the Shoals where they live hoping to uncover things from the Civil War, we learn about his wife Leah who becomes mean, nasty and irrational during a simple gathering of friends. A once relationship that was filled with romance and love has turned into more like a love/hate/despise one and just where will that take them and how will that spill over in the real world with Meredith?
The book brings to light two separate plots yet conversing into one as we get to know Michael and his obsession with Meredith though a note left for her. Yet, the man in the Red Ribbon meets another woman named Catherine who is attempting to fill a void in his life when Leah turns cold and disinterested. We get to know about someone named Quinn and we wonder just how this person comes into play with Meredith in the present as she becomes entrenched in Michael’s novel and transfixed with the main character wondering where he will go with it and whether he is fantasizing about her through Catherine in the present. Was Catherine real or an imaginary person that he bonded with because Leah was out of control? When Leah was finally committed and then returned our narrator seemed to blend into a parallel world thinking that Catherine would come and save him from the torment that his wife was inflicting on him. Drugged, injured and Leah seemingly out of control the author brings us to Meredith and Michael who seem to be dancing around in their own different worlds too. Although he wants to publish her work even though it’s in his style and reworked to make it hers but really not, Meredith falls prey to this man’s wiles and whims and when the final realization comes to pass the thought of his real motive is frightening. Becoming more than friends and in her mind thinking he will remain with her we hear his voice as he has mapped out his plans, making her his victim you might say as she becomes more and more meshed into what she thinks is his world but only what he wants her to see and not what is really there. Agreeing to allow him to publish her work and take a contract the lies begin to fall, the fame is real but the end result just might be catastrophic. Power, holds, greed, revenge, jealousies and success all play a part in this complex novel where the author takes us deep inside two diabolical minds that of Michael Black and that of Leah both seemingly the same yet different but evil. Reading about the Shoals, getting to know the area and picturing the scenery and learning about his discoveries you wonder if the narrator is living in a world he created yet does not truly want to share with his wife and although we realize she is not cured and has a mental problem we wonder how much is her fault and how much is his as we hear Catherine in his mind or fantasy claiming that she is not one of them. There is much more to his dream that has yet to be revealed when someone comes and claims he is a home wrecker and then Leah takes her own form of revenge.
As both plots meld together we learn the truth about what happened to Michael’s wife, his diabolical theory and attitude of feeing confined as he does with Meredith but has yet to reveal his true motives and then the narrator finds himself wanting to rid himself of Leah and the ending or epilogue draws both plots from part one together as two victims fall and two killers fade or hide.
Part Two explains the history behind Quinn and why her father did not want her dating or dealing with Michael and the theory behind her death as we see Meredith in the present rising to a New York Times Bestselling author, taking credit for Red Ribbon but coming to a harsh reality that Michael is insane finding him in a heap in her house and learning through threats and emails she will never be rid of him. The horror of his words and the threats aimed at her allow readers to know that he will continue to torment her until he is done or moved on to another helpless victim. When she sees on her mirror in blood a message that said “ I did not write Red Ribbon,” MH this alerts her to the fact that she needs to move, leave her home and Southern Gothic her bookstore before she winds up like Quinn or Catherine. After a signing she even asks Nate, who works for her to follow her home and get her inside. Meanwhile we hear more of Michael’s voice and Quinn’s father who is determined to take him down and realizes that Michael is part of Meredith’s life, her book and will follow suit, stalk her along with him and the end will be tragic for more than one. With a quarter of a million dollar advance on book one and over a million offered if she writes another one, what will she do and will she be able to continue the lie? What about being charged with murder but whose? The need for control, power, greed, hate, revenge, freedom, love and acceptance are just some of what author Dale Wiley brings out in this novel. A simple small town bookstore was her haven until Michael Black decided to change and control her world. Would you make a bargain with the Devil so to speak? Would you take credit for another person’s words? Fame, fortune and recognition is what Meredith has now but for how long? Will she be his next victim and Leah was in Red Ribbon? Is Michael rewriting another novel but this time not fiction?
Murder One is what she is charged with yet it did not stop her from wanting to write another novel or hearing Michael’s voice letting readers know that he is not done with torturing her and has plans in mind for her as he is now staking out a new victim and living under floorboards enjoying the confinement. Yet something does not ring true as her book is selling but she has yet to receive a royalty check leading readers to possibly believe that her agent just might not be on the up and up. With Scott Pettit as her lawyer and the costs huge will she be able to pay for her defense? Will Meredith stop lamenting over Michael and face what and who he is? From Heaven where everything seemed perfect to Purgatory where a place in which the souls of those dying penitent are purified from their sins. A place where the sinner undergoes the temporary punishment that, after the guilt of this mortal sin has been remitted, still remains endured by the person who sinned. As Meredith struggles with the realities of what she has done and the lies she has perpetrated her thoughts of Michael remain vivid and the emails that he is using to taunt her and reel her back in are quite remarkable as one would think she will fall for his deceptions. Reading his emails, hearing her thoughts and the final section called Hell just who will visit the flames of this place? What about Quinn’s father who has cleverly been able to monitor both Michael and Meredith? What about her latest novel and why was it rejected and how did it get sold the second time? When reading over the new manuscript and the title and realizing the startling ending to her book and this novel the author creates an ending left wide opened that readers might wonder whether Meredith’s success will continue? Will Michael always haunt her? Did Quinn really kill herself and did he map it out for everyone to learn while moving the body as the killer in Red Ribbon did and bury it not to be found? Will the author write another chapter in Meredith’s life or will she and Michael be together in Hell forever? Well crafted characters with paranormal and ethereal qualities as one man’s ghost, another’s obsession and a tormented man find their way to create their own version of Southern Gothic.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine