[REVIEW] Ruthless – Carolyn Lee Adams

Carolyn Lee Adams
Simon & Schuster Pulse (AU: 14th July 2015; US, UK, & CA: 12th July 2016)
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NOTE: You may want to skip the interlude between Chapters 5 and 6. Piglets, their mother, and a dog all killed. The violence is implied, but nonetheless hard to read.

Serial killer novels are tricky, especially when written from the POV of a potential victim. You know there has to be reason why this character is the protagonist, rather than any of the previous victims. You know there’s something different this time around – because Ruth Carver is ruthless.

This is uncomfortable, because it relies on the trope of “she’s not like other girls”, which compares girls instead of appreciating them on their own merits. I had a similar problem reading Cheryl Rainfield’s Stained, also from the POV of a serial killer’s captive, which implies that the previous victims “didn’t try hard enough” to save themselves.

In short, this is an awkward situation that I’m not sure any author can get right. But Carolyn Lee Adams does include the previous victims in a spiritual sense, having them work together with Ruth. She wasn’t around to save them, but they’ll do what they can to help her. After all, they’ve all been targets of Wolfman.

It’s so hard to write antagonists. If you write them as too obviously evil, they lack nuance. But if you give them back-story, it’s like humanising them. It’s kind of no-win in this aspect. Ruthless gives Wolfman a history and reasons why he kills, but there’s no excuse for murder. I particularly dislike the trope of “this person bullied me, so I’ll kill everyone who reminds me of them”. Is this how anti-bullying is taught in the US? “If you bully someone, they’ll bring a gun to school and shoot you”? Are we supposed to feel sorry for Wolfman? I don’t. But maybe if he’d received better mental healthcare, he may not have become a killer. Who knows?

Ruth Carver’s persistence in surviving takes her from Wolfman’s cabin to out and about in the Blue Ridge Mountains – hiking, hiding, and hunting. Nature is both a help and a hindrance, while the kindness of strangers can’t be counted on at all. A spooky, atmospheric read, Ruthless isn’t easily forgotten. At first, Ruth just wants help. But then she wants revenge.

Wolfman must be stopped before his misogyny kills again.

Recommended listening: Kings of Leon’s “Trunk” played in my head during the driving scenes.

Quote of interest: “You ever heard of trich? It’s not even a bacteria or a virus; it’s a protozoa. A little animal.”

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