Friday, March 25, 2016

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

First lines can be powerful. They set the tone for the book, and every once in a while, they are so good that just reading that same line years later can remind you of where you were when you first read that story. 

The house at the end of the street is full of bad air. 

Samantha Mabry’s first line in A Fierce and Subtle Poison immediately transports me to the heat and island humidity of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the croak of frogs fills the air and wildlife hides just beyond the fringes. 

Mabry’s choice of narrator is also interesting. This story could be told from an islander’s perspective, from a native puerto riqueño. Instead, she choose Lucas Knight, an outsider who is only half an outsider, with a foot in both worlds—the world where strange stories are cited as fact, where houses are cursed and girls go missing—and the world of his father, a tourist hotel developer from the mainland who could care less about marring the natural beauty of the island. 

Having grown up every summer in Old San Juan, Lucas has inherited the story of the house at the end of Calle Sol, where the superstitious señoras tell of a scientist who studies strange plants, whose wife was never seen, of a macaw who one day dropped dead of no reason. 

Anything that goes near the house at the end of Calle Sol ends up dead. 

As a child, Lucas threw a piece of crumpled up paper over the wall surrounding the cursed house. On it, he wrote,  “I wish I could lift the curse over the house at the end of Calle Sol so the birds would fly over it again.” 

And when girls from the island go missing and turn up dead on the beach, that same wish from years ago reappears in his bedroom, with new words written on it in blue ink: 

“So what’s stopping you?”

Lucas will have to uncover the mystery behind the house at the end of Calle Sol. In real life, curses are deadlier than in stories. 

Samantha Mabry 

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