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Thief of Souls by Ann Benson
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Thief of Souls

by Ann Benson

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As with the other Ann Benson novels I have read, this one intertwines two parallel stories. The first is set in the Middle Ages when Guillemette La Drappiere seeks to discover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of young children - beautiful young boys in particular - from the environs of Nantes. Because of her own personal experience with a similar tragedy, Guillemette pushes for a formal investigation even as it leads her to the unsavory conclusion that the perpetrator may once have been a child under her charge as a nurse.

The modern story is set in contemporary LA. Detective Lany Dunbar has been assigned a few missing-child cases after the death of her partner, and there seem to be connections. After some initial digging, Lany uncovers close to a dozen disappearances of pre-adolescent boys - blond, angelic, good kids. And now, despite the reluctance of her boss, Lany must discover who the serial abductor may be and stop him before he endangers any more children - particularly hers.

The legend of Bluebeard is thought to be based on the historical trial that forms the center of the historical section of the book. And Gilles de Rais is thought to have been the precursor to the modern serial killer. The intertwining of the stories in this book is done in a quite compelling manner - the modern day culprit uses a snippet from a song sung to warn travellers to keep their children away from Nantes as inspiration for a movie. The victims share the same characteristics, the culprits similar unfortunate family situations and the same methodology. Here this parallelism is deliberately invoked (with the modern culprit inspired by the historical character), but never explicitly stated - which given the similarities is a bit unsatisfying.

And overall, that's what this book was as well. Not quite satisfying. The reasons for the culprits' descents into depravity isn't ever really explored - not that we really know what makes serial killers tick - but I needed more than was given for there to be a sense of satisfaction when the story was over. Most problematic, I believe, was that in both stories the reader knows from early on who the culprit is. There simply isn't that much detective work to support a story that is then also light on the psychology of the culprits. The modern section in particular wasn't well anchored, while the author fared better in the historical section - perhaps due to the benefit of having real historical sources to work from.

The writing also caused me some trouble. Especially in the first few chapters the tense of the story jumps around wildly from present to past and back again. It's quite disconcerting and a definite sign that the book would have benefited from a more careful editor. Also the reference to the Maid of Orleans as Jean d'Arc really bothered me. If you're going for French, it's Jeanne d'Arc. If you're not, let it be Joan. But Jean is a man's name in France (and the name of about 5 of the other characters in the historical section which is a real and true pain - at least in the peripherally added characters, couldn't Benson have picked a different name?), and it was truly jarring every time Jeanne d'Arc was mentioned.

I was amused by the brief nod (I think) to her Plague Tales series, but on the whole this book was considerably weaker than those (airplane reads though they be). I suggest trying another of hers instead - and definitely turning to something else for serial killer tales. ( )
  Caramellunacy | Mar 12, 2008 |
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The dear little cottages that were the gatekeepers to Nantes were receding rapidly as I slipped into the tunnels of trees - the worst part of the journey to Machecoul.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440236290, Mass Market Paperback)

Two narratives similar in subject and story if not in style make up one exceptionally well-written thriller about child murder and molestation in 15th-century France and 21st-century Los Angeles. The reader will wait in vain for Benson to tie together two feisty and dedicated women separated by six centuries. Although the connection is never made, it's clear that what Lany Dunbar and Guillemette le Drappiere have in common is their dedication to the vulnerable children victimized by two powerful men and their resolve to bring them to account. Guillemette, the widowed assistant to the Bishop of Nantes, is the first to see that the disappearances of dozens of young boys, including her own son, are connected to one man--Gilles de Rais, whom she raised from infancy and who the world knows as the notorious Bluebeard. And Lany, a detective with the Crimes Against Children division of the LAPD, is also the first to realize that the disappearances of several young boys with a disturbing resemblance to one another together are the work of a serial killer. Thief of Souls is a riveting adventure story with two well-realized characters whose quest for justice results in one compelling tale. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:34 -0400)

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