A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G Summers: Meet one of crime fiction’s most exhilarating and most deadly psychopaths – book review –
But what the wealthy trader, and son of a white Russian émigré, doesn’t yet know is that attractive, six-foot tall redhead Dorothy is not what she seems to be… and very soon Casimir will be dead with an ice pick in his neck.
Welcome to the delicious, delightful and disturbing star of US author Chelsea G. Summers’ truly original and extraordinary debut novel that will have your stomach rumbling one minute, and churning uncomfortably the next, as we meet one of crime fiction’s most exhilarating and most deadly psychopaths.
And if the antics of Hannibal Lecter were to your taste, then the voracious appetite of the inimitable, cannibalistic Dorothy – whose speciality is eating ‘cuts’ from her victims, whether that’s sautéed with shallots and mushrooms or deglazed with a little red wine – then A Certain Hunger is guaranteed to be your perfect dish.
Positively bubbling over with dark humour, a unique brand of satire, and the sauciest of leading ladies, Summers’ tale of murder most ‘fowl’ is truly a feast for the culinary senses, a flight of macabre fancy for the imagination, and a treat for all lovers of literary eloquence and elegance.
Because A Certain Hunger is a virtuoso performance of storytelling… a wickedly clever, tongue-in-cheek send-up of foodie culture, and the cult of serial killer fiction, played out in a mesmerising narrative voice that has all the lyricism and reflective power of the best poetic prose.
Food critic, 51-year-old Dorothy Daniels, adores her job and she knows she’s good at it. Discerning, meticulous, and very, very smart, Dorothy’s clear mastery of the culinary arts makes it likely that she could – on any given night – whip up a far more inspired dish than any one of the chefs she writes about.
From her idyllic farm-to-table childhood (home-grown tomatoes, thick slices of freshly baked bread) to the heights of her career as a food critic (white truffles washed down with Barolo straight from the bottle), Dorothy has never been shy about indulging her exquisite tastes.
And Dorothy loves sex just as much as she loves food, and while she has struggled to find a long-term partner who can keep up with her, she makes the best of her single life, frequently travelling from her home town of Manhattan to Italy for a taste of both.
But there is something about Dorothy that’s different from everyone else, and having suppressed it long enough, she has started to embrace what makes her uniquely and terrifyingly herself… she literally loves to eat her men.
Her modus operandi has always been to build years of intimacy with her victims, time spent enjoying shared experiences and making ‘memory palaces,’ but when she meets Casimir in a Manhattan hotel bar, she gets careless and in her ‘middle-aged madness… my last great gasp before I sloughed off into menopause,’ Dorothy succumbs to a spontaneous night of passion.
It’s a decision that will end in Casimir’s brutal death by ice pick stabbing in a house on remote Bird Island some weeks later, and Dorothy finally finding herself incarcerated in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for her serial killings and more than ready to recount her life story… showing the world what happens when a woman finally embraces her superiority.
Summers teases, pleases, chills and thrills us with this gruesome but glorious journey through the formative – and then killing – years of the unforgettable, insatiable Dorothy as she feeds into the desires of her victims, gorges on their weaknesses and, ultimately, devours the parts of their bodies that can be transformed into the daintiest of dishes.
And what the author achieves is not some tasteless procession of gore – albeit gourmet gore – as the men are chopped and chomped, but an entertaining, earthy, camp and visceral feminist twist on the traditional male serial killer trope.
At the heart, almost literally, of it all is Dorothy, a crazy, man-eating anti-hero whose descriptions of her slaughters unfold in language more suited to literary fiction rather than the musings of a killer with an unquenchable appetite for both sex and murder.
With a procession of brilliantly conceived foodie metaphors to relish, a fine line in gallows humour for fans of satire to savour, and some truly grotesque moments to share with a woman who proudly declares herself as a psychopath, this is an insanely assured and riotously funny debut, and one that readers will dine out on for years to come!
(Faber & Faber, paperback, £8.99)