In Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, the mystery writer has a character fatally shot five times while leaning into a shower stall to turn the faucet on. Chandler conveys not only how off-balance the character is, but also how the victim has nowhere to go save into the shower stall. In Chandler’s assessment, the bathroom is the most vulnerable place in the house to be shot at.
Author Beth Aldrich doesn’t use enclosed places, but conveys, like Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, how pregnancy represents the ultimate vulnerability for women. She highlights not just the physical vulnerabilities—pregnant women are constantly off-balance, and are limited in their ability to fend off an attacker sans pepper spray because they have to keep their hands over their stomachs—but the mental dangers as well. Stress can kill a baby just as easily as a punch to the stomach.
Compound this with a woman who has had previous miscarriages, one of which was the result of an assault by a criminal, and the stress quadruples. Aldrich has Chandler’s gift for portraying violent scenes, but has a woman’s insight into the especially serious consequences it could have for pregnant women. When a mugger attempts—and fails—to steal her watch, he vents by kicking the unborn:
”The turmoil moves in slow motion as the attacker senses a losing battle and throws me to the ground while hurling the steel toe of his work boot into my midsection—the kick lands inches from my pregnant stomach. I tighten my grip on the bag and the slip of paper with one hand, preventing him from whisking it away; the other clutches my belly skin, attempting to shield my unborn baby. The cherished watch is still on my wrist but the warm blood coming from inside indicates he’s stolen something much more precious. The attacker disappears in between cars through a heavy veil of rain as my baby finds a way out of me.”
Fast forward a few years later, and Aldrich saddles the pregnant character, Betsy, with survivor’s guilt, a broken, perhaps, beyond-repair marriage, and another pregnancy. Worse, someone is sending Betsy threatening notes, and she now fears history repeating itself with another baby dying from a violent blow. Aldrich skillfully shows the double threat of such a situation to pregnant women; nine times out of ten pregnant women fear for their lives in such situations only because their babies will die along with them.
Ingeniously, Aldrich uses the familiar trope of a ticking clock as Betsy and her family attempt to unmask the killer before time runs out. But added to the suspense of the killer attacking her is whether Betsy will stress out and the baby will die before any blow descends on them. Equally problematic is that pregnant women who have miscarried fear taking tranquilizers to calm themselves because of the consequences of narcotics for the baby. Aldrich, however, an obvious dog-lover, provides Betsy with a dog that calms her in ways gallons of chamomile tea cannot.
Without giving too much away, readers not “with child” will be gripped by Beth Aldrich’s skillfully written thriller and pregnant readers will be unsettled by the ending, perhaps leading them to pay closer attention to those around them.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader