CBR Bingo: Cold
Trigger warning: sexual assualt, mild spoilers
Layne Fargo’s They Never Learn is the story of a feminist killer. Dr. Scarlett Clark, professor of English, targets all manner of deserving male victims: rapists, predators, abusers. The story opens on her staging the suicide of a young college football player who participated in the gang rape of a fellow student. She adds strychnine to his energy drink, an incredibly painful way to go. Scarlett is an ice cold killer in execution, but driven by a hot rage for justice. Right from the start, as much as I intellectually understood that an eye for an eye isn’t something to necessarily cheer on, nonetheless it’s what I did. Here were deserving victims.
The narration alternates between Scarlett and new college student Carly, a brilliant introverted young woman who comes from a family with a tyrannical, abusive father. Carly’s life is also touched by sexual abuse and her efforts to find justice for a friend parallels Scarlett’s.
Fargo has clearly tapped into the well justified anger of women at the mercy of a sexist and punishing society that often blames them for their own violation. But Fargo does not let the reader rejoice easily, which makes the book all the stronger. The cold, clear-eyed, methodical killings, as justified as they may be, are disturbing. And as much as we may want to see the selected men punished, Fargo manages to skillfully walk a tightrope between mob satisfaction and individual uneasiness. The reader feels part of a righteous group of ultimate judges, but there is a faint feeling underneath that this isn’t quite as enjoyable as it appears. This tension makes the reader question their own bloodthirst at the same time that the book is encouraging it. I found that particularly well done.
Overall I found this an enormously satisfying and riveting read. I read a lot of thrillers, and this is an exceptionally well written, tightly plotted, suspenseful one. I liked the twist of the killer driven by righteous vengeance, especially since I’ve read a ton of books that feature a woman as a disempowered, brutalized victim. I like how the book made me confront my own fury and ask deeper questions around what justice is, and what the cost may be for those who appoint themselves judge, jury, and, in this case, executioner.
There are surprising twists and increased tension as Scarlett gets closer to being discovered. The ending was so satisfying I almost clapped.
Cold: cold executioner, with juxtaposition of fiery, righteous rage.