Charla by Alexander Beresford (REVIEW)

A mother. A daughter. A demon.... How Does a Hot, Sexy Mother Who Hates Her Daughter Put Her Ultimate Plan Into Action?

As you can probably guess from the cover blurb, this was one dark, twisted, seriously messed up story. Anybody expecting a happy ending is well-advised to slam the cover closed, throw the book down, and run like you have never run before. Whatever you do, don't try to interfere with mommy's deplorable schemes, and don't fool yourself into thinking you can save the sweet, beautiful Amelie . . . because you can't.

Provided you're okay with those expectations, and can deal with the unrelenting horror of a cruel, malicious, vindictive, dangerously immature mother, then settle in for a tale that's as captivating as it is creepy. Charla is a book that starts with a declaration of hatred, and then descends ever deeper into depravity. Alexander Beresford has crafted an exceptionally well put together piece of storytelling here, with an atmosphere, a sense of style, and a subverting of genre expectations that reminded me in many ways of very early Dean Koontz.

It's clear from the start that Charla is woman on the brink of oblivion. As much as she sees herself as a sexually voracious cougar, it's clear that her best days are behind her. Never mind her fading looks or her rampant alcoholism, her husband has left her for a string of other women, and her daughter is nearly old enough to make that sense of abandonment complete. She is a woman with nothing left to lose, and one whose only remaining pleasure in life is to watch other suffer. Unfortunately for Amelie, who remains blissfully unaware of the simple cruelties her mother inflicted upon her as a child, that suffering is about to become completely and utterly demonic.

For a book that's largely about a woman watching her daughter suffer - mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually - there are a lot of overlapping layers (and villains) to this story. With the possible exception of Amelie's best friend, Beresford doesn't let anybody off cleanly - her father is an admitted adulterer, her boyfriend believes sex isn't really cheating until they're married, and her doctor is a slimy as he is handsome. It's extremely chilling to watch as Charla takes advantage of the darkness inside them all, not just forgiving it, but capitalizing on it . . . embracing it . . . subverting it for her daughter's anguish.

Like a car wreck of blood, bone, and chrome, you know you should look away, but you can't stop reading.

Coming from a reader who is more apt to laugh at the religious melodrama of tales like The Exorcist than find them the slightest bit chilling, I must say the demonic element here was exceptionally well-done. Much of it is subtle and haunting, but by the time the demon comes to the forefront, betraying (and overpowering) the woman who summoned it, there is a tangible sense of dread. This is not just some invisible, malevolent spirit, speaking in tongues, this is a reach-out-and-rape-you monster of inhuman shape.

While I'm sure many readers would prefer a cleaner, happier ending, I think what Beresford did here was just about perfect. The final scene is one that will haunt your dreams for a long while after, wondering if it really means what you think it means, and if he really was that cruel.

Published April 1st 2012 by Black Bed Sheets Books
Paperback, First, 264 pages