I was tipped off about Tara Moss, a new Canadian author, by a bookseller in North Vancouver as someone I had to read¨someone whose work was 'over the top.' As soon as I read the book and started researching the author, I realized what he meant. Born and raised in Victoria, B. C., Moss is a top international model who now resides in Australia. She also writes detective fiction and has secured a six-figure contract with HarperCollins for a three-novel set, the first being the very successful, Fetish. Needless to say, my interest was piqued as much towards the author as the book, especially when I saw the photo of the seductive blonde on the book jacket. So, I went to her website cited below the photo¨www.taramoss.com.au.¨to find out more about this beautiful new literary face. But all the time, I felt myself being 'conned' by a publishing/writing team with a lot of business savvy.
Admittedly, my prejudices against such writing run deep. I'm an English professor. I know about literary 'tricks'¨but I certainly know there are good ones and there are cheap ones. Is art lost in the unabashed commercial packaging of the work? Apparently there were others who were skeptical about this new author and her work, too. Some who didn't even trust that the sexy model could write a book. Moss herself was taken to task on this very issue¨she even agreed to be hooked up to a lie detector to determine whether or not the novels were actually written by her or by a well-paid ghostwriter. But of course, this exercise, too, was no doubt part of a marketing scheme that ties neatly into the genre of her novels. But the true test, I told myself, will lie in the reading. So, with a mind as open as possible, I settled into the novel at my cottage by the lake. I must admit that I enjoyed reading it in two sittings¨I was truly compelled to know what would happen next. But, I must add, with about as much thought as I enjoy chanting a few lines of a Britney Spears tune (Oops! I did it again!) with the car radio on.
Fetish has all the ingredients of a detective novel with a distinct parallel to the author's own life, given that the protagonist, Makedde, 'Mak', Vanderwall, is a beautiful, single, international model studying forensic psychology. Beautiful women, sexual desire¨both perverse and romantic¨and a good unpredictable 'who-dunnit' plot make this book a highly marketable product. In fact, film producers are already gearing up to adapt the novel to screen. It incorporates every possible element that could possibly attract the reader of popular fiction, successfully merging romance and detective fiction genres to please a wider audience. Sex, beautiful women, a dangerous, psychologically disturbed murderer. There are explicit passages describing both perverted sexual desire and romantic love and passion. The characters of cop-and-criminal overlap¨when Mak becomes involved with Detective Flynn, the handsome yet troubled detective on the case of the "Stiletto Murderer", the lines separating good and evil become blurred. Through this tactic, Moss adds an element of plot that motivates the dangerous psychological games that threaten the heroine's ability to trust the police investigation and draw the reader more deeply into both the character of the protagonist and her romance with the cop.
The first crime occurs immediately in the Prologue¨and sets up the compelling potential for another crime. Mak's good friend and model, Catherine, is the victim and because she's dealing with a conventionally inept police department, she sets out on her own investigation despite the obvious dangers. Dramatic irony abounds as the reader is well aware that Mak is the next victim on the rapist/murderer's list.
The sexual overtones of the novel are titillating with the murderer's "prey" described in terms of her exceptional physical form. By chapter five, readers are given a glimpse into the killer's fetishistic rituals with stiletto shoes. Add in some predictable pop psychology about the killer's perverted psyche that stems from his relationship with his mother and you'll turn the pages easily to follow the plot to the not terribly surprising end. The gorgeous superwoman-detective is a new convention as is her rejection of the 'hunky' cop who by now has fallen in love with her.
And just so you don't stop too long to savour the 'read', you're given a tantalizing excerpt from the next book, four pages of Split, forthcoming in 2003. It would seem that the publishers can't move quickly enough to start making more sales. Perhaps that's why the editing is somewhat careless. Typos and misspellings abound as evidenced on page 38 where 'elude' appears for 'allude', 'crims' for 'crimes' on page 168.
I confess, I didn't hate the book, nor did I feel as though I'd wasted my time reading it¨I did enjoy some of its obvious strategies. Still, you can't teach an old dog new tricks; the slickness of it just doesn't feel right to me. Perhaps the reason why this type of popular fiction can and does work lies in the change of attitude amongst today's readers. Readers of a younger generation assure me that they don't 'believe in' the public performance at all nor do they want to know the 'real' person behind it. The entire production is accepted as a performance that openly seeks massive popular approval and financial reward. This particular exercise leads me to think that perhaps English majors will now consider a double major in Administration (or a career in modelling)¨it would clearly seem to be the way to go. ˛