Thief Of Souls

Written by Ann Benson
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Benson has made a name for herself juxtaposing the medieval and the modern (Plague Tales, for instance) and here, again, she proves that the differences between those two eras are few and far between and that the similarities bind us.

Parallel stories – one set in Nantes, France in 1440 and the other in Los Angeles in 2002 – capture our imaginations, grip our insides and raise our hackles. Abroad in each era is a serial killer of the worst type, one who preys on young boys, a sexual predator who abducts them from their homes and families and lures them to their deaths. While the man who we have come to know as Bluebeard (really Gilles de Rais, one of the great heroes who fought with Joan of Arc) lures children to his castles with promises of food and shoes and clothing that their families cannot afford, the “Bluebeard” of Los Angeles, another well-known and well-respected man, lures their modern counterparts into cars by pretending to be a close family friend, an ally, a protector.

Each of the stories has its heroine, and both are powerful, determined and devoted women. In medieval France, it is Guillemette de Drappiere, companion to the Bishop of Nantes and Gilles’s “milk mother.” In modern Los Angeles, it is Lany Dunbar, single mother of three and a cop. Her instincts, her perseverance and her desire to protect children clarify her vision and permit her to make the quantum leap necessary to trap the killer.

This book, told in alternating chapters, moves quickly and ensnares you right away. The way Benson juxtaposes the stories and develops the two plots and sets of characters is ingenious. With this type of subject matter, I frankly didn’t expect to become as engrossed as I did, but this is, as far as I’m concerned, a must read. Be aware, though, that it is not for the faint of heart.