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Book Review: Carol LaHines’ chilling novel chronicles a jilted woman’s descent into madness

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It’s no accident that the narrator of Carol LaHines’s second novel, “The Vixen Amber Halloway,” is a literature professor named Ophelia. That was also the name of a woman who had her heart broken and was driven to madness by the title character in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

When we first meet LaHines’s Ophelia, she is being interviewed by a prison psychologist. Ophelia’s heart has been broken, too, and it is evident that it has led her to do something terrible. Her field of study, we soon learn, was Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” a 14th century narrative poem about the horrifying wages of sin.

Obsessed with her work, Ophelia had no time for dating, so she was well into her 30s when a friend fixed her up with Andy, a medical equipment salesman. Although they had little in common, they fell in love and married. But five years later, she discovered he was cheating with a young woman named Amber. At first, he denied the affair, but not long after he filed for divorce and declared his intention to marry his paramour.

“I have a hole in my heart the size of a shotgun wound,” Ophelia says. Quoting Dante, she adds, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

This is not the first time Ophelia was abandoned. When she was a child, her mother ran off with a car salesman, leaving the girl to be raised by her inconsolable, suicidal father.

“Time is not linear,” she says, “but a tripwire, events we keep stumbling over again and again, nettles in the brain, thorns in the heart.”

So Ophelia trolls Amber on the internet, spies on her and Andy for months, and even kills their dog. The novel grows increasingly chilling as Ophelia recounts her growing obsession, her towering rage, and her descent into madness, leading her to eventually do something far worse.

At times, she seems sorry for what she has done, but, at others, she makes excuses.

“Who has not experienced the haphazard cruelties of love?” she asks. “Who has not wished, fervently desired, for the new love interest to be simply gone, erased from your life?…

What would you do in my place?”

LaHines’s writing borders on the lyrical when Ophelia recalls the joyful early years of her marriage, but when she confesses her sins, her voice is stilted and often emotionless.

In the end, her descent into delusion is complete.

“One day, you and I will be together,” she addresses the absent Andy. “Your hand firmly in my grasp.”

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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AP book reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/book-reviews

By BRUCE DESILVA
Associated Press

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