Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

I first stumbled across Elizabeth Stuckey-French's novels with Mermaids on the Moon several years ago. I even dragged my children to see the mermaid show fictionalized in the book when we were visiting the area. Quirky kitschy and fun, I was looking forward to something similar with this latest offering. And while the premise is interesting and the little known underlying historical incident is horrifyingly facsinating, the book failed to strike that cord in me that would have me searching Florida for this tale's equivalent of mermaids.

Opening with Marylou Ahearn leaving her settled life to move into a Florida suburb and stalk the doctor on whom she blames her eight year old daughter's cancer and death decades before, the narrative takes off on a crazy, careening ride. Marylou changes her name to Nancy Archer, from the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, as she plans out ways to kill Dr. Wilson Spriggs. As Nance, she plots Wilson's demise even while befriending his family, with whom he lives. But Nance's plans have to undergo a change as she realizes that Wilson is suffering from Alzheimer's and he has no recollection of the dangerous, toxic experiments he used to run. As a young pregnant woman, Marylou and her unborn child were used in an experiment without her knowledge and consent. Marylou was given a radioactive cocktail to drink "to help the baby" as the government explored the effects of radioactivity on the poor and unsuspecting. When her daughter developed childhood leukemia and died even before her tenth birthday, a part of Nance died as well and when she found out years later that she had been a part of the study pumping people full of radiation, she is convinced that her daughter's death was in fact a long drawn out murder, orchestrated by Dr. Spriggs, on whom she intends to seek revenge.

And so as Nance, she buys a home and spies on the good doctor and his family, discovering that their life is fraught with challenges, problems, disappointments, and unhappiness. Since she can't make Wilson Spriggs pay for his crime if he no longer remembers it, she will get to him through his struggling family. Wilson's two oldest grandchildren have Asperger's and the youngest, Suzi, is all but neglected because of older siblings Ava and Otis's need for more parental attention. As Marylou posing as Nance gets to know the family better, she keys in on each person's weaknesses and their specific needs in order to egg them on inappropriately. Just how far will Nance go to revenge herself on the good doctor and can she continue using his family once she discovers in fact just how much she really likes them?

Nance's original purpose and the tale behind it get lost in the present day goings on, making that plot line, which was ostensibly the reason behind the novel in the first place, too weak. And the continual addition of problem after problem for Wilson Spriggs' family made it feel like one thing too many for me. Nance was hard to like and she should have been likable, still grieving so many years later and extracting deserved revenge. Instead, she came off as mean spirited and nasty. I still think the idea underpinning the novel is fascinating. I suspect that other readers will appreciate the humor as black humor, a variety of humor I have long had trouble finding entertaining, and will appreciate the tempering of the quirkiness to which I had so looked forward. Not a bad book at all, I just didn't connect with it like I had hoped.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. I haven't heard of this author, but I was surprised by the title and cover to learn that the book tackled such a serious issue. The black humor in the book definitely sounds interesting though.

  2. I was so eager to read this one, but now will set my expectations lower. I do think the idea of this book is pretty promising, but it's sad that the plot lines are a bit weak.


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