RHAPSODY IN BLOOD BY JOHN MORGAN WILSON

A Review by Sandra Ruttan


Rhapsody in Blood, by Edgar Award-winning and Lambda Award-winning author John Morgan Wilson, begins with protagonist Benjamin Justice being persuaded to spend a few restful days in a remote town with his friend, Alexandra Templeton. Alexandra is working on an article related to a movie being shot in the town, and Benjamin has just finished his autobiography, so it isn’t hard to convince him he could use some time off to relax.

The film connects to a mystery stemming back 50 years that involves the unsolved murder of famous actress Rebecca Fox, followed 25 years later by the suicide of Fox’s daughter in the same room where her mother died in the Haunted Springs Hotel. Alex’s interest from the beginning is in the lynching of a black man accused of the original murder. Recent DNA tests had cast doubt on the assertion that this man, Ed Jones, was guilty of the crime because it wasn’t his semen found on the victim’s underwear.

It isn’t long before Ben and Alex realize that the movie is off schedule, under budget constraints and the tension escalates when a known gossip reporter arrives. Rumours that she is there to expose someone in a scandalous article begin to swirl. When she’s murdered – in the same room where the other murder and suicide occurred - practically everyone in the cast has a viable motive. In Hollywood circles, where perception is everything and image is paramount to success, there aren’t many without a secret they might kill to hide.

This is a story that moves at a brisk pace. There are layers to the mysterious intrigue, and they are intertwined effectively to keep the reader guessing, but never quite getting all of the answers. Even my strongest suspicions were half wrong.

And the cast of characters was colourful and entertaining. From the jokester midget to the troubled young girl spying on everyone, each person relevant to the story was intriguing and realistic. With deft strokes, Wilson gives all his secondary characters a life and energy of their own, with dialogue at times that made me laugh for its believability.

There are strong social issues underlying the story of Rhapsody in Blood and they add to the present drama. When questions of sexual orientation or background can jeopardize the image one has built a career off of, it raises hard questions about the taboos that still linger in our society. As Alex says in the epilogue, “Slavery, lunching, intolerance, ignorance, hatred, retribution, murder. They’re all part of a chain that’s still unbroken, that maintains its own violent momentum.”

It was easy for me to see why John Morgan Wilson has been honoured with so many awards in his career. Rhapsody in Blood flowed naturally, believably, and although social issues were important to the story, I did not have the feeling that the author was merely using the book as a soap box to air his personal views. Instead, I believed I was seeing honest reflections from one of the most believable characters out there and that this was Benjamin Justice’s world.

And that’s a world I’d like to spend more time in.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Sandra Ruttan has just signed a deal for the release of her first novel, Suspicious Circumstances, in November 2006. A regular contributor to Spinetingler Magazine, her work can also be found in the May/June and July/August issues of Crimespree Magazine. For more information about Sandra visit her website at www.sandraruttan.com


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