Review: Canadian author Julia Madeleine's debut novel, Scarlet Rose, reveals a seamy side of Toronto that many Torontonians may not even know exists and others will deny. It is a story of adult striptease joints where underage girls are pressed into performing for patrons in "Perverts' Row," where drugs, alcohol and sexual favours are readily available, and where turf wars over drugs result in even more collateral damage for the dysfunctional family of "Scarlet Rose," a former striptease dancer, Sylvia Dalton, who, "At the age of thirty-nine … looked closer to fifty." It's a story that begins and ends in violence and lingers in between with all of the attributes of a classic noir novel.
In Madeleine's dark story there are no master detectives, super sleuths, or forensic specialists – only a 22-year-old stepdaughter, Fiona Dalton, earlier forced into exotic dancing by her mother, and now searching for the psychotic killer of her beloved stepfather, wealthy glad-hander and good timer, Charlie Reynolds. Instead of getting help from the local cops, she's berated by them and accused of having a sexual relationship with Charlie. Her alcoholic mother's no help, sponging from her for money and groceries while hoarding family secrets about a long missing son, Matthew, and railing about the ingratitude of Fiona whose father was a years ago high school dalliance, 20-year-old Suzanne, who was Charlie's daughter, and 12-year-old Troy, sired by "a good for nothing" named Casey after Charlie left when Fiona was only nine years old. Suzanne left home once she hit fifteen and now runs drugs from Vancouver to Toronto to New York City. Troy's serving detention time as an accomplice to grand theft auto, and Fiona's gulping down drugs and smoking pot, dancing in downtown Toronto, and suffering a recurring dream of escaping from a pedophile who attempted to kidnap her and someone else. Recently, an 18-year-old named Barry King has shown up from northern Ontario claiming to be Charlie's son. But now, Charlie is dead, brutally tortured and gruesomely killed and the cops have the grisly photos to show it. The usual suspects are being interrogated. Those nearby are grilled at the station or at their homes. But one, a homosexual bartender, can't be questioned because he's found dead, and another, a drug czar, Damon Ventura, is on a drug run to NYC where Suzanne is to meet him, confused and conflicted over Ventura's possible role in her father's death and her allegiance to her Vancouver drug running boyfriend. Fiona's conflicts are closer to home – ongoing ones with her mother, of course, a couple of scary ones with Mario, the manager of the Cabaret where she dances, when she fingers him to the cops as a colleague of Charlie's and Damon's, and a final heart-stopping one when she confronts Barry and her mother to tell them that Charlie's wealth that they've been coveting has evaporated into bankruptcy proceedings. In the end, a memento Charlie gave her when she was a child turns out to be her life saver as an adult – that, and the just-in-time intervention by her step-sister, Suzanne.
Through the recollections and reminiscences of different characters Madeleine provides some relief for the bleakness of their lives. But for most of them, even the party loving Charlie whose mother "abandoned [him] like some hobby she didn't have time for," real life is lived on Toronto's seamier side, Charlie's even more so as it turns out. A characteristically noir novel, Scarlet Rose, is first-class in its genre. But be aware. As good as it is, it ain't no cozy.
Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (firstname.lastname@example.org) for contributing his review of Scarlet Rose.
Acknowledgment: The author provided a copy of Scarlet Rose for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
No One To Hear You Scream
Black Heart Books (Trade Paperback), March 2011
ISBN-13: 9780980887426; ISBN-10: 0980887429
Location(s) referenced in Scarlet Rose: Toronto
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Scarlet Rose by Julia Madeleine
Publisher: Black Heart Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 2008
List Price: $15.95