One part Victorian romance and one part paranormal thriller, Quenby Olson’s The Half Killed is a wonderful - and at times disturbing - read. London is sweltering under an unprecedented heat wave and bodies with distinct wounds have begun turning up. Dorothea Hawes may be the only one who can untangle the mystery, but at what cost? Thus the plot begins in The Half Killed and we experience the entire thing through the eyes of Dorothea.
Olson’s ability to allow us to feel as if we are in Dorothea’s head, sharing her thoughts, is second to none. Her characterization of the main character is absolutely stellar. As we read, when Dorothea is confused, we are confused. When she begins to see something clearly, so do we. Olson manages this without ever making the reader feel like she is keeping things back from us. Actually, quite the opposite. It feels like we are experiencing the story right along with the main character. As if we are being taken into her confidence, or reading her thoughts as she is thinking them. This adds a certain thrill at points, as Dorothea’s mind and experiences are disturbing at times. I loved the feel and ambiance this created for the story. An excellent pick for a Halloween read. I’m not often one for paranormal stories, but this one hooked me. It was engaging from start to finish and I could barely put it down. The plot is extremely interesting and the reveals well-paced. As the story unfolds you find yourself caring deeply for the main character. Not only was Dorothea’s characterization excellent, but the prose that Olson crafts is beautiful. Always evocative and at times lyrical, the prose pulls you into the story. There are very few books where I feel like the experience of the words on the page itself is enough to make me want to keep reading. This was one of them.
My criticisms are highly personal for this one. The first is that there were one or two places where I felt like things could have been tightened up just a little or perhaps moved more quickly. The second is that the novel is written in the present tense. I am not typically a fan of present tense narratives. While they can work at times, I often find myself jarred out of the story. In the case of The Half Killed this happened less than it normally does. It’s difficult to criticize this, because I think part of the reason the narrative and prose were so compelling is exactly because it was written in present tense. Yet along with this, for me, there were moments when the tense jarred me out of the story. The bottom line: if you, like me, often find present tense narratives off-putting, you shouldn’t let that stop you from giving The Half Killed a try. It’s a great novel.
Quenby Olson has given us a tremendous paranormal yarn in The Half Killed. I could barely put it down. The prose is beautiful, lyrical, and evocative. The main character is finely crafted. The mystery at the heart of the tale keeps you engaged. I’m only disappointed I can’t read it again for the first time - but you can, and you should.
Review by Calvin Park
8.8/10 from 1 reviews
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