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When a novel gives readers a few familiar elements, they tend to quickly settle and start thinking they know what's coming next. There's a certain comfort in entering familiar territory. However, that familiarity usually ruins the risk of becoming predictability, and that can kill a novel as fast as awful writing. In Amelia Gray's Threats, her debut novel, she somehow manages to start off with a murder mystery that explores loss and memory and quickly twists it into a dreamlike, wonderfully bizarre narrative that's worlds away from anything else out there.
David is home on what feels like a normal day when his wife, Franny, walks in. She's barefoot and bleeding profusely. Before he can react, Franny is dead on their staircase. The police can't figure out what happened and David is in the same boat. However, there's a slight chance she's not dead at all. As David tries his best to deal with the loss and a growing paranoia that borders on insanity, he begin to find a series of elaborate and weirdly poetic threats that been hidden in strange places around his home. The dark threats might have something to do with his wife's death, or might even be coming from Franny herself. The notes confuse David as well as Detective Chico, the man assigned to the case. Chico tries to get to the bottom of things by asking David questions and visiting his home, but soon his intentions seem to be sidetracked as he introduces the grieving widower to ideas and people who seem to have their own agenda. With no one to trust, David has to rely on his memories to try to solve the case. Sadly, his faculties have suffered as much deterioration as his flooded basement.
Threats works well because it makes readers realize they have no clue about what's going on. By shattering all sense of reality and throwing the narrative into a maelstrom of bizarre situations, weird visions, and unusual encounters and conversations, Franny's murder becomes less interesting than the story itself. After the first few surreal twists, it becomes clear that the story will not follow a classic arc. In many cases, this would be a very dangerous thing to do. However, Gray's flowing prose, which is at once straightforward and given to brief lyrical explosions, is enough to keep things interesting and keep the pages turning.
Between the menacing notes, the growing paranoia, and the fact that many of the things David remembers seem to have never happened, Threats becomes an otherworldly experience where time and truth don't exist. That sense of the fantastic is heightened by David's odd actions and the plethora of uncanny images Gray conveys: David standing there as a wasp enters his ear canal, a woman who's been running an office out of the couple's garage, and phone messages that are played again and again, to name just a few.
On the surface, this murder mystery is mostly about how we deal with loss of a loved one and the ghosts of the memories that are tied to that person. Nevertheless, the second you scratch that thing first layer, Threats becomes a maddening, surreal, and unique story that does away with a standard plot in favor of the kind of writing that stretches out and touches literary writing with one hand and the bizarro genre with the other. For those looking to break away from the norm, Threats is a must read.