bloodmaskanovelofsuspens49073_f.jpgMy admiration for Joyce Carol Oates knows no bounds, and I am always stunned by quite how prolific she is, both in her own name and under the pseudonyms she uses for her suspense fiction. So I was very interested to try one of her Lauren Kelly books, and the Book God kindly presented me with Blood Mask.

I actually finished this a few days ago, but I wanted to think about it before posting, as I found it quite an unsettling novel. This is the story of Marta, who after some major family problems (father sent to jail for embezzlement, mother in rehab) is taken in by her Aunt Drewe, a gallery owner and patron of the arts. Drewe left her home town many years before and has reinvented herself in the art world, carrying on with her late husband’s interests and establishing an artists’ colony at Chateauguay Springs on the Hudson River. She sets about trying to reinvent her niece as well (Marta’s real name is Annemarie), with limited success.

Drewe has taken up with a Scottish artist who creates sculptures using the blood of the sitter, and this has provoked a reaction from certain groups who vandalise the exhibition. So when Drewe disappears from her home after a struggle, and Marta is found drugged and beaten in the woods, the search begins for the perpetrators.

This is a very dark story which I admired more than I enjoyed; the ending is very ambiguous, but that fits with the tone of the novel. I found Marta a frustrating character, though I came to sympathise with her as a young woman in the thrall of a much stronger personality. It is , as you would expect, extremely well written and I will certainly look out for more Lauren Kelly.

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