Have you ever loved someone who’s mortally wounded you? Phineas Poe, disgraced cop and morphine addict, has just been released from a psych ward when he meets a beautiful woman named Jude in a hotel bar. Red dress, black hair, body like a knife. He takes her back to his room and wakes up the next morning in a bathtub full of blood and ice, missing a kidney. Falling for her is the start of a twisted love story that takes him from the snowy streets of Denver to the high plains of Texas, where the boundaries between torturer and victim, killer and accomplice, become nightmarishly distorted.
Although there are obvious biblical allusions in Baer's stylized debut, this noir tale takes no clearly biblical route. The characters' names promise a governing metaphor: there's Jude, an alluring sociopath; Eve, a black-tongued lesbian; Rose White, a virginal med student; and a bowling alley called the Inferno. There's also a beautiful young man afflicted since birth with HIV (born to die) who begs for a kiss before his demise. Even the title foreshadows a betrayal of biblical proportions. Yet this unrelentingly dark story, set in Colorado and Texas, features mostly underworld characters and a surreal sense of reality. Narrator Phineas Poe, a former investigator for the internal affairs division of Denver's police department, offers only a hallucinatory account that is both compelling and confusing. Just released from a psychiatric hospital, he meets Jude, has sex and awakens in a tub full of ice. He discovers that she's cut into him and stolen one of his kidneys. Despite his weakened state, he tracks her down. On his way, he encounters the Blister, a corrupt cop who reveals that Jude replaced his kidney with a bag of heroin and is using him to smuggle dope. Should the bag dissolve, Poe will die. Should he remove it, he might find a bomb. On the other hand, Jude may be exploiting him as a live carrier of his other kidney for efficient delivery to the man with the money. Poe definitely has problems, not the least of which is the haunting memory of his wife's wretched death. His dilemma only worsens when he joins Jude in her nefarious career, falls in love with her and anticipates her betrayal. Yet she's not what she seems and where they ultimately end up provides this intriguing tale with a quirky, redemptive glow. Editor, Courtney Hodell; agent; Daniel Mandel. Author tour.