By M.L. Doyle
Sometimes, a book is just a lot of fun to read.
That’s usually because of the author is highly skilled with an engaging style that doesn’t let you go. My latest fun literary discovery: The Bonding Spell by M.L. Doyle, whose The Peacekeeper’s Photograph I reviewed last year.
That Doyle is a talented and skilled writer is obvious from the first page. Like every good book, the prose grabs you from the first page and pulls you along. You have no choice.
But there’s another layer here. Many authors craft good stories that follow the conventions of a genre. The Bonding Spell crosses the boundaries between genres and merges them—or even creates a new one: paranormal/occult—already a combined genre—with mystery.
Men are being murdered in a particularly grisly way in Minneapolis. And of course, they’re all linked to the past of the book’s protagonist, Hester Trueblood, and her sisters, Ruth and Sarah. It turns out that Hester’s brother-in-law, Reuben, married to Ruth (notice a pattern here?) is one of the detectives assigned to investigate the murders.
Hester is an Army veteran of the Iraq occupation turned successful restauranteur. As if running a business with six or seven employees is not enough to keep one busy, Hester is also the human vessel for Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice and power. When stationed in Iraq, Hester saw a shiny coin or medallion in the sand. Despite all the training against touching potential booby-traps, she picks it up, invoking the binding spell that could allow the goddess to possess Hester.
The possession or merger of two distinct personalities causes some hilarious inner dialogue with the goddess.
Inanna is capricious, demanding, conceited—the incarnation of high maintenance. On the other hand, the spell does have its upsides, such as strength, fighting prowess, rapid healing and sexual prowess that approaches insatiability. Oh yes, and Hester can transport or teleport instantaneously. No more traffic problems for Hester Trueblood!
Inanna, as the goddess of beauty, sex and desire, has sexual appetites that cannot be denied. This leads Hester to a succession of athletic, fulfilling and exhausting sexual one-night stands. As the goddess of war, Inanna also needs a good fight every so often. To satisfy these desires, Hester becomes a legend at a local underground fight club.
Inanna has devotees in Quincy and Rashid, men who pledged their lives to her service. She also has two leopard-sized grey cats, Pearl and Granite, who guard her and who can communicate with her telepathically.
One more thing: as the embodiment of Inanna, also known in different times as Ishtar, Hester has a famous suitor: Gilgamesh. Yes, that Gilgamesh, the Sumerian king and demi-god. Inanna wants to go all love goddess on him all the time (Doyle’s descriptions of him are gorgeous), but Hester resists. For a while.
A serious turn
While all of this is a lot of fun, the book takes a very serious turn to a tough subject pretty quickly. The connection to the Trueblood sisters’ past is child sexual abuse. Their father, Danton Trueblood, not only sexually abused his young daughters, but pimped them out to a circle of perverted friends.
When Hester was 12 and her sisters 14 and 10, they’d had enough. They duct-taped their father to a chair, suffocated him with a plastic bag and dumped the body in a swamp.
Years later, the other men in this circle of torture are found dead, one by one. Hester is worried that the police investigation will uncover the murder of her father. Making it worse is that the swamp where the body lies is now being developed into a suburb.
Never too dark
This is heavy stuff, especially when Hester and her disciples interrupt one of the murders in mid-slice. But even so, the author’s style, while vivid, focuses on people and emotions. As readers, we feel Hester’s anguish and her inner conflict over the gruesomeness of the murders and her feeling that the brutality is justified. She’s afraid that her sisters will be implicated in the crimes, and worse, that one of them is committing them.
This book explores the feelings of being possessed by an ancient force of nature, and the reaction of a 21st-century woman to men who literally get down on one knee and pledge eternal devotion to her every desire.
Whenever the mood gets too gloomy, the author brightens the scene with the touching devotion of Inanna’s servants. And the appearance of the antagonist is truly entertaining, while pushing the story forward at a critical point. That’s the true sign of a great writer.
Deep, moving, original and entertaining. What more can you ask for in a book?
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