Review of Liquid Bones by Cassandra Zaruba
“A fresh body is always more fun. But a bit messier, too.”
So says the Emperor of Ice Cream, a former psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, in reflection on his desire to kill, apparently for reasons as flimsy (to sane people) as to fulfill his own warped interpretation of his literary idols.
People are disappearing from the rural outskirts of
In addition to the Emperor, four other key characters piece together this story: Emilia, Luke, Gavin and Caleb. In a clear nod to one of
It is Emilia, the self-doubting and resourceful young woman who, using her own generated moxie, is the key to solving this mystery. There is a subtle spirituality to all these characters. The reader will be pleased to root shamelessly for some and root against others in the same manner. For the reader, the book is simply a celebration of getting to read a good story.
Cassandra Zaruba displays her gift for storytelling with this wonderfully crafted suspense. There is some creepy stuff going on in her mind. We are fortunate she has the willingness and significant talent to write some of it down. Full of likeable and despicable characters and an appealing interwoven plot, Liquid Bones is the best combination of terrific writing and fun reading.
“But Jiminy crickets, I never snacked on anyone’s flesh.”
The Emperor of Ice Cream, arrogantly offended at
comparisons of himself to Jeffrey Dahmer
Review by Eric Luck, author of
“Most Fortunate Son”
Liquid Bones: a killer new novel
By Julie Sager
Retriever Weekly Editorial Staff
Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes can vouch for the fact that I am a total sucker for all things literary and gruesome-death-related: true crime, horror, and above all else, a good old-fashioned murder mystery. In Liquid Bones, I found a nice dollop of each, blended with just a tiny bit of romance and inspiration on the side, the end result of which is a well-paced, well-written, downright enjoyable debut novel.
Liquid Bones tells the story of Emilia, a recent college graduate on a long road trip with a particularly interesting dilemma: she’s missing a decent-sized chunk, several hours or so, of her memory, lost in a Fargo-esque creepy locale, and aside from the occasional flashback, has no idea what happened or why she doesn’t remember it. As a result, she finds herself unexpectedly in the company of Luke, Caleb and Gavin, with whose help she finds herself more and more deeply entangled in a brutal mystery whose centerpiece is the surprisingly amiable serial killer known only as “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” As cultured as Hannibal Lecter, as charming as Jeffrey Dahmer, but slowly spinning out of control, the Emperor is a rare joy to behold in murder mysteries: a killer who is infinitely more interesting than any of the protagonists, but just twisted enough that I wasn’t necessarily rooting for him to come out on top. He is a man on a mission, and not necessarily a mission that is within the realms of his control; neither a bumbling ham-fisted crook nor an annoyingly superior vigilante figure, the Emperor is intelligent, educated, and sophisticated, but above all else, he is human and it is completely fascinating to watch him act out.
Granted, this is not a perfect novel: the characters are a tiny bit awkward and obviously created in their mannerisms and dialogue, and the blossoming romance seems forced—but that could very well be because I personally hate to have my gore and dismemberment interrupted by a love affair. Overall, the low point of the book isn’t even in the novel itself; the somewhat gawky, ungainly back-cover summary is the worst writing between or on the book’s covers, and something that can easily be ignored in favor of the better stuff within.
The author, UMBC English alum Cassandra Zaruba, has easily sidestepped the pitfalls of pretension and bullshit that plague so many writers of our age group, and come up with something increasingly rare: a straightforwardly written, elegantly structured, good old-fashioned thriller with a twist. She has taken a different path and as a result, given me and others great hope in college-age writers again; the low point of my academic career so far was realizing that my fifteen-year-old brother writes better than most college English majors and that most of them wouldn’t know a sonnet if it jumped out and bit them. Rather than fixating on the creation of something beautiful, a task at which innumerable young writers and artists inevitably fail, Zaruba has instead thrown convention to the four winds and celebrated all that is warped and ugly about the human psyche right along the beautiful standards of faith, hope and love.
And let me tell you, it’s a lot cooler that way. It seems like no one’s writing murder mysteries nowadays; blame Law and Order for taking all the good ideas or today’s readers for being just plain bored, but it seems like things have just gotten more and more complicated. It’s not enough to just have a serial killer anymore; there’s always got to be some sort of plot to blow up the world or something apocalyptic. Liquid Bones takes crime fiction back a step or two; it’s noticeably more complicated than the locked-room mysteries of Doyle or Christie, but the premise is still refreshingly clear and easy to understand. This is a hell of a novel, and I’m not even going to add “...for a first attempt” as a caveat, only this: man, she’s only going to get better.
Zaruba’s Faulkner-esque narration, which lets alternating characters tell the story, is done deftly and with enough skill to keep it from being confusing or repetitive. Along with giving the reader innumerable valuable insights into the thoughts and actions of the several main characters, this style of narration allows Zaruba to keep the plot fresh, interesting, and highly suspenseful as characters weave in and out of the complex plot. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who needs a break from stuffy, pretentious literature and just wants some good-old fashioned thrills, suspense, death and dismemberment; it’s like a vacation for your brain.
--The Retriever Weekly, February 21, 2006
A Review of Liquid Bones
By Cassandra Zaruba
I have just finished reading Cassandra Zaruba's Liquid Bones. To quote an old television commercial, All I Can Say Is...WOW! This superbly crafted novel of suspense rivals anything on the book market today. The story, told from the perspectives of five different viewpoint characters, unfolds quickly and seamlessly, swiftly drawing the reader to the point of no return. Zaruba moves fluidly from 'head to head' in alternating chapters, never missing a beat. Indeed, returning to each character is like being reunited with an old friend, as little by little, a chilling story unfolds: the story of a serial killer whose victims are selected based on a book of poetry. The story twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing until it's shocking conclusion. I have no doubt that this author's incredible talent will become a force to contend with in the suspense genre, and that the name Cassandra Zaruba will soon be as revered as Stephen King, John Sandford, and Mary Higgins Clark. This amazing novel is a must-read. Buy it today!
Reviewed by M. Jean Pike, http://www.freewebs.com/mjeanpike/
"...I must say, at first, the way this book is written surprised me. I love first person narrative books, and Cassandra Zaruba has not only written Liquid Bones in first person, but from the viewpoint of all her characters. Once I got the hang of it, I was not disappointed. In fact, I applaud her for her talent, quickly seeing the benefits of sharing each individual character's thoughts and feelings. I think, along with the exciting plot, that's what made this such a terrific, gripping story. One which I didn’t want to end..."
Reviewed by Tracy-Jane Newton, Editor of Alternative Read
Read full review here: http://tjbook-list.blogspot.com/2006/07/309-alternative-read-liquid-bones.html
‘‘I’m so quiet at work,” said Zaruba, who is an editorial coordinator for the scientific journal of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in Bethesda. ‘‘My co-workers don’t know how I could have written such a disturbing book.”
‘‘Liquid Bones” is written from the perspective of each of the book’s main characters: Emilia is a recent college graduate traveling to North Dakota to tend to a relative; Luke is an art dealer and snowboarder; Gavin is a basketball player-turned-coach with a guilty conscience; and Caleb is a theology student who is tormented by visions.
The characters find one another while investigating the disappearance of several people in and around Bismarck. They begin a suspenseful search to discover the unlikely identity of the book’s final main character, known as ‘‘The Emperor of Ice Cream,” a former psychiatrist and hypnotherapist who turns into a deranged killer.
Zaruba said William Faulkner, one of her favorite authors, largely influences her writing style. She utilizes several Faulknerian specialties, including stream-of-consciousness prose and unorthodox punctuation. ‘‘Liquid Bones” is also sprinkled with allusions to some of Zaruba’s other literary influences like John Updike and Seamus Heaney.
Zaruba chose Bismarck, N.D., as the book’s setting even though she has never visited the city.
‘‘I just had a strange fascination with the area,” said Zaruba, who researched maps and tour guides prior to beginning the novel. ‘‘It’s a vast, barren and cold land, which is a good location for a mystery.”
Her work has paid off. A Bismarck radio station recently interviewed her and Zaruba is scheduled to do a book signing at a Bismarck Barnes & Noble in May.
Zaruba was raised in Baltimore and Ellicott City before moving to Laurel in high school. She took to writing at a young age.
‘‘I remember writing for fun in kindergarten,” said Zaruba, who wrote her first novel at age 18. ‘‘I wrote stories about my Barbie doll collection.”
It took Zaruba two years to complete Liquid Bones, her first published novel. She began writing the book in 2002 when she was a student at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County.
‘‘I would write whenever I found time,” said Zaruba, who always starts her books with pen on paper. ‘‘I started out writing between classes when I had a few minutes.”
Since graduating from UMBC in 2004 with an English degree, Zaruba has made an art of fitting writing into a busy schedule that currently includes a full-time job. Now, she writes most of her books during lunch breaks.
‘‘I seem to do better with writing when I don’t have a lot of time for it,” she said. ‘‘It forces me to be creative.”
Recently, Zaruba finished her third book, a war drama set in the future. She is currently shopping the book around to various publishers. Despite early success, she knows how tough it is to become a full-time novelist.
‘‘It’s so hard to break into the industry and make any money,” she said.
In the meantime, she will continue her editorial job. And maybe now her co-workers will joke that it’s the quiet ones who become big-time authors.
Liquid Bones is available online from most booksellers. Zaruba is scheduled to sign copies of her book at the Baltimore Inner Harbor Barnes & Noble between 1 and 3 p.m. on March 11.
--from the Laurel Gazette, March 2, 2006
UMBC alum publishes novel
By Julie Sager
Retriever Weekly Editorial Staff
For as long as she can remember, Laurel, Maryland native Cassandra Zaruba has always loved to write. Winner of the 2000 Creative Writing prize from the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society and as a 2004 graduate of UMBC’s English department, she has finally gotten her chance to professionally pursue this passion with her first published novel, a thriller/suspense/murder mystery story called Liquid Bones (PublishAmerica).
Inspired by the work of William Faulkner and the amount of time any self-respecting English major spends buried in literature, the novel centers around a serial murderer who goes by the Wallace-Stevens-inspired moniker “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” Having indulged himself in one murder, the Emperor finds himself unable to stop, but regains some semblance of control by working, as many serial killers do, in a pattern. However, his selection of victims is somewhat more interesting and specific than most: inspired by a favorite book of poetry, the Emperor travels around the area surrounding Bismark, North Dakota, and chooses victims according to how well they fit his literary criteria.
The story is told from his perspective and that of four other characters: recent college graduate Emilia, art dealer Luke, basketball coach Gavin and theology student Caleb. Emilia, caught in the classic horror-film situation of being stranded in the middle of nowhere when her car breaks down, has an unexpected encounter with the Emperor, emerging intact but with no memory of what has happened to her. In an effort to rediscover the truth behind the blank in her mind, she and her newfound friends become deeply involved in the events surrounding the Emperor’s series of murders.
Look for a full review of Liquid Bones in the next issue or so of The Retriever Weekly. The novel can be purchased from a number of online sources, including amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and publishamerica.com. For more information about the book and Cassandra Zaruba, please visit her website, www.cassandrazaruba.com.
--The Retriever Weekly http://trw.umbc.edu/?module=displaystory&story_id=669&format=html
Young author moves from kittens to killers with novel
by Joe Murtchison, Staff Writer
A psychopath psychiatrist uses poetry to choose his murder victims. After their deaths he hacks up their bodies and burns their bones. Into his clutches falls a homeless young woman who is trying to pull her life back together, along with some newfound friends who are trying to help her.
This is the macabre, page-turning premise of "Liquid Bones," a self-published novel by 23-year-old Cassandra Zaruba of North Laurel.
Zaruba, who graduated as an English major from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2004, said, "It's always been an interesting question for me, 'What makes a serial killer?' " She said her research included reading about such killers as Ted Bundy, who murdered dozens of women across the country during the 1970s.
Zaruba, who works in Bethesda as editorial coordinator of a pharmacology journal, said she has always been a writer. "In kindergarten I remember writing stories about kittens," she said.
At the age of 11, she churned out her first "novel" - a 72-page opus about Hollywood Hair Barbie.
Obviously, her mature interests have taken a different turn.
Zaruba said "Liquid Bones" is actually the second grown- up novel she has written, but she chose to publish it first because "I thought (it) had more marketing appeal."
She has just completed penning a third novel as well: the story of a religious war 1,000 years in the future between "neo-Christians" and followers of a new religion. "It's very different," she said.
"Liquid Bones" contains violence and profanity. On the flip side, its love interest - the developing chemistry between homeless Emilia and a snowboarding artist named Luke - is chaste. Their relationship, as much as the slasher suspense, propels the book forward.
--from the Laurel Leader, February 16, 2006.
http://news.mywebpal.com/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpid=810&show=archivedetails&ArchiveID=1167078&om=1 (Scroll down to second article)