Monday, July 20, 2009

Females In Peril: Part II: The Readers Speak

While still new in the Blogosphere, I have noticed that after around ten comments readers begin to stop reading an entry and start looking for a new topic. That being so, I'm putting the last several comments I received in answer to my recent Stone Barrington/Female in Peril question: Do women read these sorts of books? And if so how do they feel about the bloody treatment female victims receive at the hands of sadistic killers? Several readers answered this question. In particular, I had asked about a series I remembered but couldn't name where a female author had a serial killer who captured and tortured the male protagonist. Perceptive Poster Marlene came up with the answer.

Allen, I believe you are thinking of Chelsea Cain, author of several books about a sadistic mutilating female serial killer. One of them (the only one I read, I think) was called ``Heartsick.'' My recollection is that she really cuts up our detective hero and he is turned on by her....(I don't recall that he actually falls in love with her, but there definitely is some serious sexual tension between the two of them. On her part too, if I'm remembering this correctly.)

Allen asked about the taste of female readers. I'm one, and I go for the gruesome stuff, as long as it's not gruesome-for-gruesome's-sake. (Did that make sense?) For that matter, consider that women thriller writers (Val McDermid comes to mind) can be just as gruesome as the guys. McDermid can get pretty graphic against women in her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series of books (In the ``The Wire in the Blood,'' for example, the book, not the BBC TV series, a young woman police officer gets killed off in a most barbaric way) and other women writers have no qualms knocking off women. The most shocking murder in my recent memory was that of Helen Clyde Lynley, wife of Thomas Lynley (the hero of Elizabeth George's British detective series, in a totally random senseless shooting. Most of George's fans (me among them) were outraged and heartbroken!!! The writer, when asked about it, said (I am paraphrasing big time) that she just wanted to shake things up a bit! Indeed.

I forgot to add that Lady Helen was *pregnant* when she got shot, and she didn't die right away: Lynley had to decide to pull the plug. So George killed her -- and their unborn child -- in a most prolonged, agonizing way.

Yes, Chelsea Cain is the author, and the books are Heartsick and Sweetheart with a third entry, Evil At Heart coming in September. Excellent books. The serial killer is Gretchen Lowell and the detective is Archie Sheridan who was once tortured by Gretchen for ten hours, leaving him with a large heart-shaped incision on his chest.

Bridget is the next lady to answer my question...

You asked for a female readers comment, so here goes. I have read some books where the female character is easily cut down or killed, and I felt like it was a big let down, I could see it coming, and I knew what was going to happen and it didn't inspire me to enjoy the book. But I rarely read books like that, and as a female, I generally select books with strong female leads, and even if the female lead is weak, or a victim of injustice, rape, etc - her rise from the ashes, seeing her triumph over the horror, is very satisfying, to see her stand up for herself, gain strength, the victim becomes the heroine. I think that books like that give women hope if they are ever hurt or abused they can rise from the ashes like a phoenix. I remember reading a book about a woman who was horribly abused by her husband. But all the while she was abused, she was doing little things to plan her eventual escape, start a new life, and when she was strong, and by then the character had grown to be able to defend herself when he eventually caught up to her. (Not the movie Sleeping with the Enemy, can't remember the book title).

I would never enjoy or want to read a book where women are just categorically abused and maligned and treated as less than an animal. I doubt many women would read an author that would continue to render woman helpless and weak. Even many male readers have wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters - I can't see them getting much out of it either.

Is that what you were looking for?

And Mr. Appel, I appreciate your consideration in seeking a woman's viewpoint on the matter. Down with the Psycho Author's who enjoy hurting women. Like society needs any more encouragement!


Well, Bridget, I agree with you. There is a sub-genre of Females In Peril who don't wait for their boyfriends, husbands, detectives or woodcutters to rescue them from the wolf's den, but figure out a way to free themselves and vanquish their tormentors. I like this twist on the genre we have been discussing. An excellent example of the latter is John Sandford's, May release, Wicked Prey, in which Sandford's detective Lucas Davenport's teenage ward Letty takes on and defeats a criminal sub-human out to kill her. This is an example of another genre, The Kid In Peril, which was once big in thriller circles but has now ebbed and been relegated to mainstream fiction where it remains a staple. This Sandford thriller also re-establishes that his hero, who for the last several books has delivered an intelligent but rather boring performance, can still kick criminal ass.


  1. Speaking of ``Heartsick,'' in a freakishly weird coincidence, a very evil character in the (fantastic) HBO series ``True Blood,'' aired just this past Sunday evening, was reading a copy of this book as she sat at a kitchen table talking to another (non-evil) character. You barely could see the book, but anyone who has read it would recognize the cover. The character is Marianne Forrester, who we are beginning to learn in a most creepy way, is evil, evil, evil. I'm sure series creator Alan Ball was quite deliberate in planting the book in her hands. Since this is a series in which considerable blood is spilled, I have to wonder what it forebodes.......Anyone else out there a ``True Blood'' fan? I am addicted. (and, since this is a writing/reading blog, I have to confess that I haven't yet read the books upon which the TV series is based.)

  2. On John Sandford: I agree that he has become boring. I couldn't get into the last one. I really liked the earlier `Prey' books because they not only were good yarns, but they explored the developing and complicated relationship with his future wife, Weather. There was one book especially where she almost got killed -- female in peril!! -- and it really mucked up their fledgling romance for quite a while. The books became much less interesting after they reunited, got married and had a baby.

  3. Check out the new book. As I said, he locks and loads in this one. Sandford needs to be careful that the domestic details don't overshadow the action. This is always a danger with long-running series characters.