Typically, when a reader picks up a book, they follow the journey set out for them by the author of that novel. Even when the structure of a novel is complex and labyrinthine, there is a feeling that the author is in control. With his new novel, The Poison Artist, Jonathan Moore allows the reader to have a new experience. It’s hard to explain – and it’s not really as chaotic as it might sound – but The Poison Artist feels more like everyone, including the author, is following the characters around – characters themselves who are confused and disoriented.
The main character’s propulsion of movement is fueled by the absinthe he consumes. As he partakes of that intoxicating liquor, Dr. Caleb Maddox slips further and further under the hallucinatory fugue the drink is notorious for. Like the reader, he is unable to tell what is real and what might be the result of his over-active imagination and mind-altered drunkenness. When a seductive stranger flirts with him in a bar one night and then vanishes, Caleb begins a citywide hunt for her, almost unable to exist until he can see her again.
Meanwhile, the police are discovering a series of dead bodies floating in the San Francisco bay. Due to his background in toxicology, one of Caleb’s friends requests his unofficial help on the case. Unbeknownst to Caleb that decision will alter his every waking hour – as eventually this serial murder case dovetails with his hunt for Emmeline, the woman from the bar. How this all blends together is just part of the illusory mirage Moore has created.
Jonathan Moore has written a novel that casts a spell over the reader. To say that it is similar to being hypnotized would not be at all inaccurate. Just as when Caleb wanders the fog shrouded streets of San Francisco, the reader has no idea what twist lurks just around the next plot turn. There is a unique rhythm to Moore’s writing – an undulation which lures the reader in and simply won’t let go until the final page. And even then, just like Emmeline’s perfume, the memory of this reading experience lingers with the reader for quite some time after the book is closed and shelved.
Jonathan Moore was previously been nominated for a Bram Stoker Awards and it is easy to see why based on The Poison Artist. While the novel is not a traditional horror piece, there is always a sense of otherworldly danger inherent in every new development. Admittedly, there is nothing supernatural happening here, there is just this overwhelming feeling of “foreigness.” Bucking the trend, The Poison Artist is the perfect length to tell its tale; relatively short, there is not filler or extraneous sub-plots, and Moore should be commended for resisting the urge to overwrite.
The Poison Artist will not be right for every reader, but for those intrigued enough to take the risk and journey down this dark path, they will no doubt come away impressed by what Jonathan Moore has crafted. So grab a drink – any of the types mentioned in the novel (absinthe, wine, Guinness, or Jameson) will do – sink down into your most comfortable chair and allow Jonathan Moore’s wicked words to seduce you.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.