Doug Sutherland ‘Book Review’ of Dancer’s Rain
When I was kid, I remember my Dad having a cool collection of rock’n roll records and boxes of crime novels – I always thought my father was cool for liking such things. In fact, the apple has not really fallen that far from the tree. I also have a large music collection and a pile of pulp fiction paperbacks. In the mid 00’s while reading the Ottawa Citizen, I stumbled on an article about a new publishing company, Hard Case Crime, that was republishing classic pulp novels along with brand new works by famous notables including Stephen King. Since then, I have read a number of pulp novels from past and present authors – including countless film noirs – pulp fiction’s cinematic counter part. The accessibility and simplicity of the crime genre has been used by many writers to capture the imaginations of the every person. The pulp genre is also know for its subversive social commentary on our ever changing society. Illustrating the constant struggle between social change and tradition. The violent clash between patriarchal traditions and the current arrested development of masculinity have become the focus of many contemporary pulp novels – making it the perfect vehicle on issues of social and personal ethical issues between the sexes. Pulp fiction will remain a controversial genre, just read Jim Thompsons’ 1952 pulp novel classic ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and compare it to the highly controversial Michael Winterbottoms 2010 cinematic adaptation of that novel.
This leads me to Doug Sutherland’s pulp novel ‘Dancer’s Rain’, a true pulpy page turner that isn’t afraid to challenge it readers personal boundaries. Dancer’s Rain is a crime book with a serial killer thread. The first few pages immediately set up the criminal themes in the novel where a young girl hitchhiking gets picked up by a brutal sexual predator. The opening quickly establishes a common theme in ‘Dancer’s Rain’, no woman is safe from the male gaze. The rural setting only amplifies traditional hyper masculine aggression towards women. Even the young female hitchhiker, who is obviously street smart and aware of the danger she is in can not prevent her brutal fate. There is nowhere to hide. No where to turn. The mother/daughter central protagonists in the story are objectified by all the males – including Frank the central protagonist. Sutherland writes female characters well but he has an uncanny ability to write erotic male fantasies. At times, the sexual urges of male dominance in the novel are shared by both protagonists and antagonistic male characters. The sexual confusion only highlights the emasculation of the men in the novel – and their excessive need to dominate women sexually and violently.
With all the pulpiness, suspense and thriller elements that exist in Dancer’s Rain, Sutherland writes some insightful, thought provoking beautiful pros bordering on poetic. So much so, that the novel transcends its genre at times causing the sexual encounters and violence to clash against its conservative rural setting. Is it unsettling? Absolutely. Blurring the lines between right & wrong, reality & fantasy, and life & death. This is a serious bit of writing hidden within an exploitation genre. This book is not about finding answers. There can only be questions. It’s not about murder, really. It is about lost innocence and the grey area in between. This book is recommended only for Adults because of its strong sexual scenes and brutal violence. With that being said, I highly recommend it.