The dark side of magic is where the Ragman dwells. Nobody knows that better than Eve. Desperate for a child, she called on that cunning conjurer eighteen years ago. Her daughter, Abbey, was the result
After Abbey’s younger brother dies in a fall, Eve fears the worst about her daughter. Five years later, she still battles her guilt and grief over what happened the day she lost her son. Her husband, Richard, doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know the truth about Abbey; and besides, he has secrets of his own to keep.
But when terrible things begin to happen to those who get in Abbey’s way, Eve must overcome her own pain and loss and find the strength to deal with what she fears most — a teenage daughter she can no longer control and a past that could come back to haunt her in the most monstrous of ways.
For me, reading ‘Eve’s Rib’ was like trying to move forward across the deck of a ship in a storm, I kept losing my footing and being taken by surprise. It was exciting and unsettling at the same time.
It’s not that ‘Eve’s Rib’ is difficult to read. It’s a compelling, propulsive story told using clear narratives from three characters: Eve (an author of a humorous series of books about a tall hitwoman), Richard (Eve’s husband) and Abbey (Eve’s daughter). The feeling of being off balance came from my ‘I know what genre this is’ expectations being wrong more often than they were right. I kept mentally stepping unexpectedly into thin air as the plot shifted away from the formulae I expected and into something more original and unusual and much more explosive.
‘Eve’s Rib’ is a genre-crossing story that has to be taken on its own terms. It’s a unique blend of witchcraft and psychopathy, serial killers and domestic drama driven by guilt, doubt and love that creates a menace-laden tale.
The prologue set me up for a witchy tale somewhere between ‘The Rules Of Magic‘ and ‘Crossroads’. We have a witch struggling with a series of miscarriages and a deal made with the devil, or at least with the Ragman who sounds like a close associate
Eve’s initial narrative, set eighteen years later, sent me into ‘strong wife in peril’ domestic psychological thriller land. It starts with Eve alone at the ER with a broken rib and a set of secrets, one of which is how her rib was broken. When she returns home it’s clear she’s grieving for her five-years-dead child, struggling to communicate with her abrasive, dismissive adolescent daughter and frustrated with her emotionally absent husband who wants to tidy her away so that he doesn’t have to watch her cope with the pain from her broken rib . Eve’s narrative is full of small, closely observed details that feel real, like the transparent way Abbey manipulates her father to get what she wants and the dismissive way she treats Eve and how Eve has to move everything that Richard puts in the dishwasher to put them where they should be. I ended it thinking, ‘I know where this is going.’ I didn’t.
The next chapter was an extract from Abbey’s journal and now I was somewhere else, somewhere closer to Demon Seed or The Omen. I loved Abbey’s voice. It was bright, clever, entitled and spiky. But, from the very beginning, her journal felt performative and untrustworthy or at least, self-serving. Here’s an example:
I’m starting this journal so I can set down the real story, and so I can say how I truly feel, and not keep it in like I always do. I don’t care if my mom reads it, or whether it’ll hurt her to hear the things I have to say. She should know who she is by now. She may think she’s the only writer in the family, coughing up those silly crime novels for her publisher every year, but she isn’t. She doesn’t even make any money at her writing, not really. She hasn’t earned out one of her advances. So selfish.O’Cinneide, C.S.. Eve’s Rib (p. 21). Dundurn Press. Kindle Edition.
The next chapter was from Richard’s point of view and showed me a weak, self-pitying, damaged man cheating on his wife and not able either to stop or to face up to what he was doing. I was back to betrayal and secrets and psychological thriller land but I knew there was more to it than that.
As the book continued, I started to understand that all three narrators were unreliable, either knowingly or subconsciously and that they all had secrets and unclear loyalties that they tended to lie to others and or themselves and that they were locked in a miserable family life, blighted by guilt and doubt and known but unacknowledged betrayals.
Yet this was more than an unflinching portrayal of family life. The magic was real and some of it was malevolent. There was a serial killer at work, who may or may not be one of the family. There was a slowly growing sense of dread and a promise of violence that was made more menacing by the shifting points of view and by the difficulty in being certain who was a hero and who was a villain.
I found ‘Eve’s Rib’ disturbing because it sucked me into that atmosphere of guilt, doubt and betrayal and left me with the feeling that none of this would end well.
In the last third of the book secrets are revealed, the bodycount rises, and possible threats substantiate into fatal violence, I found myself wrapped up in the book as a thriller and I needed to read on and find out who would survive and how.
Yet, at the end of the book, I realised that not all the lies had been revealed and doubt and suspicion remained. I rather liked that.
‘Eve’s Rib’ works perfectly well as a standalone novel but I hope that there will a sequel. I don’t think I’m done with Eve and Abbey yet. They have one of the most compelling and plausible and fraught mother daughter relationships I’ve come across. Richard? Yeh, him I’m done with.