Title: The Devil's Staircase
Author: Helen FitzGerald
ISBN: 9781846970450, Polygon, 2009
First Line: It was fifty-fifty.
Bronny has spent years with self-imposed blinders on. When she turns eighteen, she decides to remove the blinders and start living. She leaves Australia and finds herself down and out in London. She's never taken drugs, had sex or killed anyone. Within a matter of a few weeks, she will have done all three.
She finds a menial job in a bath house and joins a group of backpackers when they break into an abandoned townhouse. Rent-free living. What could be better? What none of them know is that they're not alone. There's a terrified woman bound and gagged in the basement, and she's been there for weeks.
Bronny is a brilliant character; one I wasn't sure I was going to like. She gets an idea in her head and no matter how stupid it is, she thinks it's gospel. She makes her way to London and then spends most of her time taking every drug she can find and trying valiantly to lose her virginity. She's a typical, thoughtless teenager that I wanted to slap silly. Until I came to page 30:
"Why should we give you this job?" the twenty-three-year-old Mint-manager-man had asked.
"Because I have no ambition and no particular skills."
"You want me to be contented filing bits of paper eight hours a day, five days a week. For this, a candidate must be uninspired and robotic. I have these qualities. I am the person you are looking for."
I've spent many years reading employment applications and interviewing (for the most part) teenagers for retail positions. When I read the lines above, I burst out laughing. All of a sudden I went from wanting to shake some sense into Bronny to seeing her as a person of interest, a breath of fresh air.
This is such a quick read, I almost said that I wished it had another hundred pages. Almost. As it stands, it's a perfect length, providing glimpses into a world with which I am not at all familiar. With a particularly twisted killer on the loose, the book is very edgy and not really for the faint of heart. The Devil's Staircase has been called "thinking woman's noir", which is rather catchy and fairly accurate. It's definitely noir laced with humor, and it definitely made this woman think.
With its edgy, fast-paced story and its endearing main character, The Devil's Staircase has made me add Helen FitzGerald as an author to watch.
[Purchased from Amazon.]