Some scenarios are always creepy, and Appetite for Innocence: A Dark Psychological Thriller by Lucinda Berry holds the secret. The plot is resonates with the intensity of James Patterson’s Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, from the Alex Cross series. As the prolific Patterson, Berry, a real-life clinical psychologist, tells a story that highlights the vulnerability of young women and girls, and determination of sick male minds to brutally despoil their sexuality and sense of trust.
The narrative shows the author knows her way around the human psyche. The character’s descriptions and reflections add another level of intensity to a tale that is already a page-turner. Set in the contemporary “live out loud” social media-culture, the villain trolls status updates and other trash and tribulations that real-life millennials, especially girls share so willingly to find victims who are virgins. “They’re locked away in his sound-proof basement until they’re groomed and ready,” as the publicist Heather Harrison described. “He throws them away like pieces of trash after he’s stolen their innocence. Nobody escapes alive.”
Then there is a clever twist. Ella, the main character is a resilient and resourceful girl who the police and FBI believe foiled the aims of a serial rapist. She escapes and frees a slew of intended victims, once of which is Sarah. Readers will think they know this tale of cat and mouse, yet they do not. Berry’s “twist” takes Ella beyond the initial challenge into a plot that is as dark as promised. Ultimately, readers will wonder whether the title applies to more to the criminal or his victims.
Berry dramatizes the innocence of the characters through many statements and gestures. Those moments add a sense of truth to the fickleness in young thoughts. After the rescue, Ella states:
I don’t have the heart to tell her [mother] my faith in God was the first thing I abandoned in the basement. In the beginning, I prayed so much I even did it in my sleep, begging for protection, guidance for the people trying to find me, and to watch over Mom. God had always been as real to me as the bed I slept in at night and the walls of my house. I’d carried my Bible in my backpack since kindergarten. He was my compass, always my due north. His job was to love and protect me from harm. As time went on and things grew worse, it seeped in what a fool I’d been to believe. At first, I saw it as a test of faith. I’d always been taught God tested your faith, but it wasn’t a test—it was torture. It boiled down to two options: God was real, present, and directly involved in our lives like I’d been taught or nothing I’d been taught was true and God wasn’t real. He was either there and did nothing to help me or he didn’t exist. I quickly decided there couldn’t be a God because no God who was supposed to love me and had the power to intervene in my life would do nothing to save me. I didn’t have to be scared of going to hell because of my unbelief. I was already there.
There are deeper moments when the yearn for salvation seems lost that will tug at the heart. At the same time, the experiences are so natural that the actions become chilling in their reality that many readers will shudder. For example, when Ella confides:
I get up slowly. It still hurts to stand. I shuffle into the bathroom to change my pad first. I don’t want to bleed on any of his things. I don’t think the bleeding is ever going to stop.
To believe her resolve is exhausted would be to miss the strength that lies beneath the discourse that sounds so naive. With its references to artifacts of teen life such as Gilmore Girls the author demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge that might scare young readers with its truth. The use of Ella’s and Sarah’s voices breeds a fascination with the similarity of the main characters, despite their avowed differences. Eventually, the plot makes a final turn in the revelation of Sarah’s real role in the drama. Most of what happens in the end will come as a surprise even to those who have read Berry’s earlier novels Phantom Limb and Missing Parts. Spoilers avoided, those who read Appetite for Innocence are in for a wild ride. If you love crime, suspense and thrillers give the work a chance.