J.S. Monroe’s latest suspense novel, Find Me, is a messy and incredibly grim story that takes us through one man’s harrowing journey to find the girlfriend who had long ago been presumed dead. While the suspense nearly manages to carry the tale through, thin characterization and over the top scenes of mutilation and torture put a wall between the characters and the reader.
Jarleth “Jar” Costello is a haunted man – quite literally. Tormented by frequent sightings of the love of his life, Rosa Sandhoe, he is caught between the waking world and constant visions of his lover, which psychiatrists have told him are grief-based delusions. For Rosa was seen throwing herself into the Thames five years earlier and has been presumed a suicide ever since, even though her body hasn’t been found.
Unable to make emotional connections with other women, Jar doggedly pursues every single avenue he can to track down Rosa, ignoring everyone’s demands that he give up the chase. Most of his family and his friends have written him off as a hopeless case. His writing career has failed as he’s unable to create anything close to fiction since Rosa disappeared, and his only friend is Carl, a tea boy at the office where he puts together clickbaity articles for a website. His dead-end life is changed forever when Rosa’s black sheep aunt Amy requests a clandestine meeting; Rosa’s uncle has partially decoded a file left encrypted on Amy’s computer – a long-lost diary. They both have reason to suspect that they’re being followed. Clues within it lead Jar into a seamy underbelly of terrorism, the dark web and spycraft, and into the ugly side of Rosa’s late father’s life. He soon discovers that Amy, and even his best friend Carl, are not who they appear to be. Once he finally finds Rosa – and learns that she is not the woman she one was – he must try to save her from the people who want to harm her.
Monroe’s novel starts out as a suspenseful and tight-knit thriller, but it quickly devolves into a messy torture porn party, a tale so self-interested in the art of storytelling itself that it nearly disappears right up its own behind.
The way Monroe splits the narrative is the story’s biggest problem. One third of the story is Jar’s; another third belongs to Rosa; the final third to Rosa’s hedonistic, sexually abusive, sadistic, drug-addicted uncle Martin. This might be artistic in someone else’s hands, but in this case it delegitimizes the tension between Rosa and her fate, and Jar and his goals.
That’s not to say those individual segments don’t have a sense of liveliness to them. Monroe’s voice for Jar is vividly laddish, reminiscent of Irvine Walsh or Roddy Doyle. Martin also springs to stomach-churning, queasy life, but there’s a fatal flaw in all of this – Rosa is a cipher; very little of her exists outside of her attachment to her father and her being an object to be tortured. She is a Manic Pixie Dream Victim in a lot of ways, and one wishes for her survival in a distant way but it’s somehow pretty hard to bond with her. While Jar’s devotion to her is sweet, we get precious few examples of her feelings for him – which is, perhaps, understandable in light of the brief nature of their relationship.
The plotting of the novel itself is rather tortured, slaloming between Martin’s sleazy wallowing, Jar’s self-centered search for Rosa and Rosa’s slow disintegration into a world of mindless pain. You would not expect after reading the first half of the novel that you would end up reading vivid descriptions of both human and animal torture, a narrative choice that becomes worse as Monroe delves into self-important cerebral twaddle that tries to connect the horrors of terroristic torture, animal abuse and the Importance of Being an Authentic Writer. He sadly fails.
Monroe’s attempts at arty obfuscation doesn’t help his case; what isn’t leaden in his prose is often overwritten to the point of annoying the reader. My pre-release copy included some immortal bloopers, such as the line “so Kristen’s a spice now, is she?” Would that be Baby or Sporty? (I imagine he means “spy”).
Find Me is a butt-blistering read that feels at least 200 pages longer than it ought to be, overloaded with long digressions that irritate instead of building the mystery. The end result is a mystery that barely passes muster. Sadly, this one’s a bit of a dog.
Warning: This book contains intense depictions of human and animal torture.