Thriller Book Review: TERF Wars by Dharma Kelleher

Thriller Book Review

Author: Dharma Kelleher
Publication Date: Jun 18, 2021
Publisher: Dark Pariah Press
Genres: Crime Thriller
ShelvesFemale-authored, Female-fronted, Transgender 

Dharma Kelleher has a knack for getting under your skin and in your head like few authors I know. You don't just read her books, you experience them. All the rage, the heartache, the sorrow, and the frustration on the page gets to you, but something about the personal nature of TERF Wars evokes a supremely powerful emotional response. By the time we get to joy and the jubilation, you may not be as physically banged up as Jinx, but you're just as mentally and emotionally exhausted.

I don't want to get too deep into the plot because it's a series of gut-punches that you need to experience for yourself. Instead, I'd like to focus on the themes of the story, beginning with violence against women. There's a scene early on that drives home how even the toughest, smartest, most street-savvy woman can still fall prey to toxic masculinity. It's tough to read, not only because we can see what's coming, but because Kelleher forces us to confront how money, power, and influence can rewrite the narrative of a serial abuser.

The second theme, one that intertwines with the first, is that of violence against transwomen. A smart, open-minded, socially aware person would argue there's no difference between the two, that transwomen are women, and that what threatens one also threatens the other, but it's precisely that ideological (as opposed to biological) divide that drives the novel. It all begins with an unforgivable act of violence against a transwoman, one that cleverly turns the infamous bathroom argument on itself, but the consequences of that grow wider and deeper with a campaign of misinformation, intimidation, and escalating violence. The ways in which Kelleher parallels the two themes, using violence to offer a commentary on violence, pointing out the absurdity of that ideological divide is fantastic.

As always, Jinx Ballou is a kickass heroine who, despite having been ambushed and exposed by the media in the past, reluctantly steps into the spotlight to put a face to the resistance against TERFs and their violence. While Conor, her fianc√©, has a role to play in tracking down the fugitive, Kelleher doesn't allow him to be the proverbial knight-in-shining-armor. This is Jinx's fight, her battle, her mission, her life, and while she'll need friends and associates to see it through, it all comes down to her. It won't be easy, and there's one massive setback that hits harder than just about anything we've seen in the series so far, but something this important shouldn't be easy.

In a series that just keeps getting deeper and better with each new installment, TERF Wars is the kind of thriller that deserves to go viral and explode onto shelves. It's as entertaining as it is thoughtful, full of Hollywood-worthy action sequences, and if it doesn't get under your skin or in your head, much less wrapped around your heart, then I daresay you may be part of the problem that makes a story like this so necessary. Brilliant stuff that will have you frantically turning pages long into the night.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 

My sincere thanks to the author for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.