Thursday, May 30, 2019

Alice by Terri Peterson (transgender thriller)

I find myself struggling as to how to approach a book like Alice. This is a dark story of dark deeds, but whether you find in it a victim, a villain, or a combination of both depends on the experiences and moral values that you bring to the story. Terri Peterson has written a thriller that deserves to find a wider audience than it will likely see, and it is one that will challenge readers, even as it entertains them.

Let us begin with the character of Alice . . . about whom I have to be careful what I say, lest I spoil the heart of the story. Alice is more than just Stephen's feminine identity, more than just a "haven from the horrors of life at home, sanctuary from suffering, and a defense against darkness." She is a separate, well-defined character in and of herself, and she is wonderfully complex. Alice will have readers reeling between feelings of sympathy, excitement, empathy, and horror, and what you feel strongest will guide how you judge her actions.

The first third of the story is precisely the kind of edgy, sometimes uncomfortable, erotic drama that Peterson does so well. It feels authentic, especially in how it refuses to shy away from things the fetishizing of the transgender community. We bear witness to gay bathhouse encounters, back seat quickies, outdoor dogging, and the filth of online sexting. Just when you have become lulled into a false sense of security, though, the story throws a few twists at the read. The first two I have already touched upon as much as I can, and the third . . . well, the third ends in murder.

Yes, the middle third of the story deals with multiple acts of cold-blooded, calculated murder. Like the best moral thriller, Peterson challenges the reader to decide for themselves whether these acts can be excused or at least understood. We are presented with a serial killer who has a motive, a drive for justice that, on the surface at least, is something with which we can identify. Whether (or how much) it matters that the killer is sexually aroused by the death-throes of strangulation . . . well, that is left for the reader to decide.

The final third of the story follows the erotic drama into an equally uncomfortable romance, even as it expands on both the themes of moral justice and murderous arousal. It is here where the promised ties to the Smeared Lipstick saga begin to appear, with the need to hide one crime leading to the desire to expose another, and where we are really challenged to make a choice between villain or vigilante. Alice is a dark, well-crafted thriller . . . one with an emotionally troubling heart, and a character who will stick with you long after the final page is turned.

'Terri' Peterson, was born August 19th, 1969, and spent what she referred to as 'a miserably failed experiment in tyranny' at a typical secondary school, where she was bullied relentlessly and made fun of. She left with no regrets, a handful of qualifications for a career in banking, and bitter memories of time spent being the object of ridicule by her peers. Being myopic, gauche, skinny and flat-chested, sporting a head of rich auburn hair, made her a daily target for abuse, which she escaped by becoming immersed in the fantasy world of writing short stories.

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