Love is Red is the story of a serial killer with a mysterious purpose attacking New York City and the woman who becomes his ultimate prize, the one he pursues for his final kill. Told in alternating POV, the story is gripping, scary, thrilling, and very sexy. The writer uses the second-person voice for the serial killer’s POV which is a stroke of genius. It makes the reader culpable by making us sympathize with and understand this monster. From the very beginning, we get the sense that the serial killer is omniscient, he just reads people too well, and while he’s somewhat cavalier and sadistic when he goes in for the kill, it never gets gruesome or graphic or crass.
It’s one of the strongest openings I’ve ever read, a real shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.
The serial killer feels emotions through the senses, much like Death views human souls as colors in The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. The descriptions in Love is Red go beyond seeing a particular color to include sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings.
“Terror is the color of under the bed, it is the color of bone marrow and the color of chalk, it wails like sirens, it hums like wasps, it thuds like an MRI machine, it tastes of sweat, it tastes of metal, it tastes of rising bile, it feels like the scrape of cement against skin, it thumps like a pounding heart.”
Chapter 11 is almost entirely a key to the map of all the emotions: “Love is red…Anticipation is aquamarine…Ambition is orange, the color of a traffic signal…Anxiety is light blue, the color of varicose veins…” It is possible the descriptions could have been trimmed, they do verge on the edge of indulgent, but it is such sensual writing (literally) that it feels like a mini daydream in the middle of a nightmare. Truly exquisite.
The woman he’s ultimately after, Katherine, shows up in the second chapter with her first-person voice telling us about the date she’s on. It’s so relatable and she’s a bit on the sarcastic side, which I personally love. She finds herself drawn to her new boyfriend’s best friend, who is dark and distant, and is clearly the serial killer. She tries to ignore all the hysteria about the serial killer’s latest kill, how no one knows how he gets in, how there’s not a trace or a clue to his identity. She wants to live a normal life, she wants to find a man to love, but even in that she fails as she’s torn between the good, sweet, funny, respectful David and the enigmatic, boundary-crossing, lustful Sael.
I really don’t want to give any spoilers or hints as to what happens, but I have to mention the larger plot that these characters are mere players in. In between the chapters are chapters from an ancient book about a maiden who brews magical beer and all the men that fall in love with her. The serial killer constantly refers to Katherine as “the Vessel” and how even though he’s killing women, he’s doing it for a greater cause and that humanity will thank him for it. Plus, there are women ghosts that appear – sometimes to Katherine but mainly to her roommate’s son who starts drawing gruesome pictures of women getting murdered (think The Shining). At the end, it loops in the Immaculate Conception and birth of Jesus. This overarching scheme did not pull together for me. Maybe there were too many elements; maybe I just didn’t connect the dots. It was certainly intriguing and left me wondering what it was all about and what the message may have been about good and evil or, perhaps, about religion. But I was frustrated by a lack of answers and clear direction. Given the indulgence of the sensory descriptions of emotions, I would guess the writer couldn’t edit out all the “big” ideas she wanted to pull into this story. Unfortunately, less is more.
Ultimately, the strength in the writing and in the story itself lies in the serial killer-Katherine chapters, and I would still highly recommend the book. If you figure anything out, please let me know!
From the Publisher:
This electrifying, addictive, and hypnotically beautiful debut spins suspense and literary fantasy into a stunning epic—the first volume in the Night Song Trilogy—ablaze with fear, mystery, and possibility. Katherine Emerson was born to fulfill a dark prophecy centuries in the making, but she isn’t aware that this future awaits. However, there is one man who knows the truth: A killer stalking the women of New York, a monster the media dubs the “Sickle Man” because of the way he turns his victims into canvasses for his mesmerizing, twisted art. Unleashed upon Manhattan after lying dormant for centuries, the Sickle Man kills to harvest the precious hues of his victims. As his palette grows, so too does his power. Every death brings him closer to the one color, and the one woman, he must possess at any cost. While the city hunts the Sickle Man, Katherine must decide what to do about two men who have unexpectedly entered her life: handsome and personable David, and alluring yet aloof Sael. Though she’s becoming increasingly torn between them, how well does she really know them? And why is she suddenly plagued by disturbing visions? Told from the alternating viewpoints of Katherine and the Sickle Man, Love Is Red is a riveting thriller that unfolds into an intense story of obsession and control, desire and fate. Katherine may not realize it yet, but with this haunting novel—as arrestingly original as Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, and Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls—her moment of awakening is here. And soon she will find herself fighting a battle at the edges of our world, among forces more dangerous than we can possibly imagine.
A native of South Africa, Sophie Jaff is an alumna of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and a fellow of the Dramatists Guild of America. Her work has been performed at Symphony Space, Lincoln Center, the Duplex, the Gershwin, and Goodspeed Musicals. She lives in New York City.