Aspiring author and father-to-be Neil Dawson finds himself a bit overwhelmed with the idea of being tied down with a wife and child. It’s not that he doesn’t want them, he’s just not entirely sure how he will manage both them and his job, and still find time to devote to his writing.
To let off a little steam, Neil writes a story about the Goblin King. In Neil’s story, the Goblin King grants a young man his wish… that his girlfriend’s pregnancy conveniently disappear. Neil feels slightly guilty about the topic, but still, better to write a story than say things out loud that can’t be taken back, no? Eager for some feedback, Neil sends the story off to his father, himself an author, for review.
It’s not until several days later when he receives a call from his father’s agent that Neil realizes he hasn’t heard back from him. The agent is concerned she hasn’t gotten a response from Dawson in awhile, so Neil pays a visit to his father to touch base. What he finds is an empty house, with a message on the answering machine from the police asking someone from Dawson’s family to call them. Neil’s father, it turns out, has been found dead in a neighboring town.
Enter Detective Sergeant Hannah Price. Price has built her career around trying to live up to the standard set by her father, who also rose to the rank of Detective Sergeant on the very force on which Price now serves. Having recently lost her father, when she’s assigned to investigate the apparent suicide of Christopher Dawson she’s particularly attuned to what Neil is going through struggling to cope with his father’s untimely death. What she doesn’t realize is that she too will soon be struggling once again with her own father’s death, but for reasons she couldn’t ever possibly have anticipated.
Trying to understand why his father would kill himself, Neil begins looking into the circumstances surrounding his father’s death and comes across an old detective novel called The Black Flower amongst his father’s possessions. His father appears to have been obsessed with the book, and when Neil begins to read it he is disturbed to discover the plot eerily mirrors events occurring in his own life. And this is where Black Flowers really takes on that special feeling that author Steve Mosby brings to his writing. Never one to give his readers a conventional offering, Black Flowers is very cleverly, and quite intricately, presented as a story within a story… with flashbacks thrown in as well for good measure.
Interspersing excerpts from The Black Flower with current events, Mosby slowly reveals to both Neil and readers the story of a young girl who appears out of the blue one day in a small seaside town not unlike the one where DS Price works and Neil’s father died. The girl carries with her nothing but a mangy bag containing a withered black flower, and a horrifying account of her past. According to the book’s author, the story was based on crimes that actually occurred in the seventies, crimes DS Price’s father investigated and which she comes to question whether he handled appropriately.
The multiple narratives – Neil and his father, Price and her father, the story in The Black Flower – are seamlessly interwoven, carefully overlapping not unlike the petals of a flower. As Mosby brings them ever closer together on their inevitable collision course he plays with the concept that fiction can fuel reality, that if stories are powerful enough and retold often enough they can take root as ideas that result in action. It’s an intriguing concept, one which Mosby brings vividly and disturbingly to life in Black Flowers.
It’s no secret Steve Mosby is one of my favorite authors (I did devote an entire week to him on my blog last year), but he has really outdone himself with Black Flowers, in which he essentially tells three stories simultaneously, keeping them distinct yet also making it quite clear they are parallel versions of one another. It’s an incredibly tricky feat, but one which Mosby pulls off sublimely. Black Flowers is a book which will both challenge and stick with you, and was easily one of my Top 5 reads of 2011.
Black Flowers is available from The Book Depository, which ships free worldwide. (ISBN: 978-1409101116)
PS – Be sure to check out my other reviews of Steve’s work, and a guest post from Steve, from Steve Mosby Week.