BOOK | FICTION | THRILLER
HANDS OF EVIL
by Melissa Barker-Simpson
RATING: ★ ★ ★
It seems that in this supposed enlightened day and age in which we live that there wouldn’t be, at least there certainly shouldn’t be, so much preventable human tragedy happening as frequently as it does. On any given day at any given time you can turn on or click to any given news outlet and find tragedy in the form of human disregard toward other humans, a disregard which so frequently takes the form of hate and abuse and murder. It’s just so sad. In the States we are going through a horrible and tragic convulsion of unarmed black boys and men being gunned downed by our well-armed and very powerful and legally well-protected protectors of the state. Right alongside that, we’ve been having a steady stream of high-profile reporting of an equally egregious and tragic crime; a crime most often committed inexplicably by a husband or a boyfriend or a date; a crime seemingly endemic to society and without a cure in sight; a crime of abuse and sexual assault toward women.
And it this challenging and heartbreaking topic of abuse and sexual assault toward women that author Melissa Barker-Simpson takes on with her novel, Hands of Evil.
Overall, this story was a mostly enjoyable read, especially in the context of how it brings to light strong women who have gained and earned their strength through their own tragic travails and survival of abuse. Grace, whom I regard as the story’s protagonist (though it seems Barker-Simpson touts JJ, a stoic and manly former military special forces operator and now civilian close protection officer as the lead, as indicated by both her submission for this exercise, as well as her synopsis on the book’s back cover), sets a fine example of a strong female character, which is definitely needed in times such as now.
However, as far as being a thriller, it simply isn’t. I list it as a thriller only because that is how it was pitched to me and that is how it appears to be as written in the book’s back cover synopsis. However, other than at the beginning and the ending, and a brief moment or two spattered throughout, there isn’t much mystery or suspense, let alone thrills. The killer, for whose crimes the story is named, is not developed and his role in the story comes to a predictable conclusion long before the book ends. To me, the killer seems more to be an afterthought. The real bad guy of the story, and a character the author did a good job of developing, is Grace’s former husband. It is he who adds what little suspense and mystery there is to the story.
What this story really is is a romance novel. And, while I’m no romance novel expert, Barker-Simpson does a very good job at illustrating all the contortions and misgivings and joy and sadness that human relationships of love and hate and envy and sex entail. JJ, who has his own scars as a result of abuse, abuse inflicted not to him but to someone he loves, and Grace, who is in the middle of her own recovery from abuse, are drawn together by the actions of the killer (apparently his primary and what seems to be sole purpose in the story) and must find a way to overcome all the challenges before them for their relationship to have a chance. Now, as someone who came into the story expecting a thriller, one romance (which included not one but two sex scenes for those of you who like reading those) would have been more than enough; however, we also are given the lesser developed relationship pangs and pains of two secondary characters.
As it is, I suppose a major take-away from this review is: if you’re looking for a thriller this isn’t it; if you’re looking for a romance novel, it just may be it. And even though the story is not what I expected or hoped it to be, it succeeds most in what it needs to be, and that is as an example of a contemporary female author writing about and paying tribute to strong, contemporary women by showing them surviving and thriving in an environment often hostile and dangerous toward their very existence. An environment that is very real and very present to far too many women throughout this often petulant and perplexing planet of ours. And that example set by Melissa Barker-Simpson and her character Grace, without a doubt, is what needs to be taken away mostly from this review.