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Review in Rue Morgue Magazine

Aug 1, 2009

" intense and brilliant psychological thriller with supernatural elements... tight and fast-paced..."


Rhodi Hawk


Each unhappy family, observed Leo Tolstoy, is unhappy in its own way -- and none of his characters had to contend with demons, extra-sensory mind control and voodoo priestesses with grudges.  Madeleine LeBlanc, the psychologist heroine of A Twisted Ladder, on the other hand, is juggling all three, along with an apparently schizophrenic father, a brother who commits suicide early in the novel, and a great-grandmother seemingly hell-bent on setting her up with the mysterious Zenon Lansky, a gun-shop owner with telepathic tendencies and a penchant for recreational homicide.  Never mind that Madeleine's also developing concerns about her own psychological state, since the arrival of a mysterious young girl named Severin, whom apparently only Madeleine can see or hear...    

This Southern Gothic family saga, Rhodi Hawk's first novel, is an intense and brilliant psychological thriller with supernatural elements.  The plot is tight and fast-paced (a fine and good thing considering the book is more than 500-pages long), and Hawk's characters are original and compelling -- often chilling, too.  She sustains the tension well, handling the ambiguity of Madeleine's mental state with skill and sympathy, without ever sinking into the irritating trap of depicting psychological instability by confusing the hell out of her reader.  Additionally, her setting is as much a character in the book as its cast of assorted phantoms, addicts, and plantation owners; the heat and damp of the Louisiana bayou infuses every page until it's surprising the damn thing hasn't turned into a soggy, steaming mess in your hands.    

Mostly light on gore but heavy on the atmosphere, A Twisted Ladder is deeply unsettling in its depiction of a tortured family history that continues to impinge upon the present.  As Madeleine struggles to move beyond the darkness that imbues her family's past, she is drawn into an increasingly tangled web of deceit, violence and black magic.  However, it is the relationships in this novel that give the book its true power, proving that, although each family may differ in its own way, it is the common thread of our humanity that ultimately unites us.


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