Clinical psychologist Kim Slade has intimate experience about body disfigurement. She’s a scarred woman, both facially and figuratively. Yet superficially she’s a successful modern career woman who converted childhood trauma into something positive. Slade has a fashionable flat in trendy Cheltenham, a second seaside home in the West Country, a loving long-term boyfriend, a close-knit circle of loyal friends, a snazzy set of wheels, rewarding work and supportive colleagues. Oh yeah. She has something else, too. She has a stalker who wants to terrify her, isolate her, ruin her and then kill her.
On one level, Beautiful Losers works as a race-to-the-end novel of suspense. The author Eve Seymour throws a stack of suspects into the mix. Neither the reader nor Slade knows who to trust, as suspicion switches from unknown strangers to her most intimate friends. Seymour maintains the mystery all the way to the final showdown, scattering red herrings and the odd dead body en route.
Then there’s way more going on in the subplots: body dysmorphic disorder; the life-rending implications of a rape accusation; the unspoken uncertainties of loving adult relationships; pushy parents and the anxieties they stimulate in their offspring; societal pressures to stay looking attractive into older age – almost every chapter repeats the book’s motif: there’s more to this than meets the eye. Slade’s personal uncertainty has the most resonance. She struggles to define herself as an individual. Is she dependent on her lover? Can she only be happy within the confines of that relationship? Does she need to be a wife or a mother in order to be fulfilled? She just has to stay alive and out of jail to answer any of those questions…
Slade has potential to be a powerful protagonist. She’s an intelligent, insightful woman with the head-shrinking expertise which should make her ideally equipped to size up and sort out a deranged, disturbed opponent. But she spends much of the time on the back foot, very much in the role of bewildered, out-manoeuvred victim. She could’ve out-thought her stalker but instead reacts without engaging her intellect – deleting emails, disposing of vital evidence, denying her peril when she could’ve faced it full on. In truth, Slade’s not really the kind of woman I’d want to spend much time with. Her idea of ‘siege mentality’ is stocking up on purple-skinned olives, Gran Padano, artichokes marinated in olive oil and a posh bottle of creamy-dry Prosecco. My shopping list if pursued by a psycho stalker would be somewhat different (rape alarm, pepper spray, SWAT-style telescopic baton, tactical nuke). However, I appreciate that there’s an entire sub-genre of crime novel which demands ‘realistic’ reactions from its protagonists. And I guess most people would simply fall apart in this situation – we can’t all be Lisbeth Salander. Apparently.
There are several chapter conclusions which seem to signal a forthcoming change of direction, a new determination in which Slade rejects the role of passive victim and takes the fight to the enemy. My spirits would lift at these, only to plummet a few pages later when she returns to the same pattern of oddly inappropriate, banal, bourgeois behaviour. Set a trap for your stalker? Nah. Schedule a dinner party instead. I longed for her to scheme and plot a way to confront her tormentor. But no. Must locate fresh raspberries for that evening’s tête-à-tête.
So it’s an absolute tribute to the writing that, despite how little I liked her, I was fascinated by Slade’s decline into distrust and disorder. I was intrigued by the potential identity of her tormentor, and keen to discover how the parallel plots involving a mid-life crisis, older woman and a neurotic, anorexic youngster were resolved. For me, the master-stroke involved Slade’s relationship with her lover and how rapidly she became convinced that he’d betrayed her. Who do you trust?
This is a complex novel which aims to incorporate weighty contemporary themes into a page-turning thriller. It struggles in places to realise that ambition, but the pages sure do fly by. Beautiful Losers is listed as being the first Kim Slade thriller. Hopefully in the second, her intellect and grit will play a greater role.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Beautiful Losers by Eve Seymour is available as an ebook or paperback