Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect by M. J. Rose. Mira, 2005. ISBN: 0778321975

This is what it's like to walk around in someone else's skin. M. J. Rose's masterful use of words invokes all our senses. We feel what her characters feel, see what they see, smell what they smell. We even come to think their thoughts. She draws us in and, before we know it, we are riding the roller coaster, and we suddenly realize the cars are not very well attached to the rails.

The person we get to inhabit in The Halo Effect is Dr. Morgan Snow, a New York psychiatrist who specializes in sexual problems. We meet her as she is counseling Cleo Thane,a high-class, high-priced prostitute and madame. Cleo is writing a book that tells all about her (thinly-disguised) clients' proclivities. When Cleo vanishes, the obvious questions arise: Who took her? Was it a client concerned over being exposed? Is she still alive?

The police can't help. This is just a missing-person case to them, and besides, they have more important issues to deal with. Issues like the Magdalene Murders, a series of prostitutes murdered by a serial killer, apparently in some bizarre religious ritual. The murders are becoming more frequent, and the police have to move fast to avoid a bloodbath. An obvious move is to call Dr. Snow in to consult on the case. Are the murders somehow connected to Cleo's disappearance? How is she going to find out? It's not long before Morgan Snow is in a heap of trouble.

The Halo Effect is a rip-snorting suspense novel that will keep you guessing to the very end. As Morgan tries to deal with family and personal issues, professional ethics, and a handsome and intriguing detective transplanted from New Orleans, we come to understand her. Her tension and conflict crank up the energy level in this novel to piano-wire tautness. Rose's technique in this book does not just depend on precise and eloquent use of words. She also lets us read parts of Cleo's book along the way. Her ability to switch voices from Morgan to Cleo when needed is effective (and enviable, it's something I will have to study carefully). Her characters are well-defined individuals, each with his or her own set of conflicts and defining characteristics.

I look forward to watching Morgan Snow grow as the series progresses. I truly enjoyed inhabiting her skin for a while.

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