The Taker – Alma Katsu

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Alma Katsu’s The Taker, a Gothic tale of dark magic and monsters, is a compelling read, laced with unexpected twists and turns and enough depravity to keep you off-guard. The night the local cops bring a confessed murderess into the emergency room of the hospital in northern Maine, Dr. Luke Findlay is bored and dreaming of flight from the small town where he grew up. Life has soured for Luke—he’s lost his sense of direction. His marriage has crumbled and his ex-wife and daughters now live many states away. He wants out—and events open the door for him.

A corpse is found in the woods and the woman is covered in blood but unhurt. The physician examines her and then she startles him by slashing her chest open with a scalpel. As he watches, aghast, the fatal wound heals over and becomes invisible. Lanny—Lanore McIlvre—tells him calmly that she is from the town, although Luke has never seen her before. And the reason is that she was born at the turn of the nineteenth century. And for even more puzzling reasons, she asks the doctor to help her to escape.

The Taker is a story of obsessive love that spans centuries, unimaginable evil that dabbles in immortality, and incomprehensible forces unleashed on people too innocent, or too fiendish, to resist. The story bounces back and forth from post-colonial America to a Europe centuries old to the present, as Luke and Lanny slip away from the police and head for Canada and freedom. En route, she tells him her mesmerizing history and he falls under the spell of a fantastical account far removed from his own depressing existence.

It’s very dark. And very interesting. I could do with some humor in my daily decoding but this is a good book for someone not as driven by relentless deadlines to enjoy. Apparently, wishful thinking and naivety will catch you up in nefarious plots no matter what century you happen to inhabit. There are givers and takers in this tale—mostly takers it turns out—and it isn’t giving anything away to say that history repeats itself with little variation. It is worth noting that the title of the book is singular.

Very decently done. Good Gothic. Lots of nasty stuff. Unpredictable and surprising. I’m not always susceptible to the “undying love at any cost” narrative and I failed to empathize with this one—but empathy isn’t necessary to enjoy a well-made story and The Taker is that.

The Taker   Alma Katsu | Simon & Schuster   2011

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