CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 23. . . .February 15, 2013
The Thirteenth Rose. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2013.
85 pp., pbk., pdf, epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-022504 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0226-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0227-8 (epub).
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
For the hustlers in my neighborhood, the evening of February 14 is bigger than Christmas. No one wants to spend the last hours of Valentine's Day alone. And Shuter Street is the place to connect. Even the mid-winter slush can't dampen the festive mood. Everybody wants to party. The hookers, in their lipstick-red, thigh-high boots, offer clients a buffet of sexual pleasures. Drug dealers offer their own buffet, an array of goodies that can perk you up or take you out – buyer's choice...
When Doloroes O'Reilly calls my name from across the street, something in her voice catches my attention. Dolores has been working Shuter Street for as long as I can remember. Her days as a dewy Irish rose are long past. She's giving Father Time a run for his money. But there's more brass than copper in Dolores' shoulder-length curls. Her eyes are tired too. She's seen too much.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Charlie D," she says. There is no mistaking the sadness in her voice. I'm carrying thirteen long-stemmed scarlet roses for my producer, Nova Langenegger. I cross the street, pluck one of the roses from the florist's wrapping and hand it to Dolores.
Charlie D's action, described in the excerpt above, is a kindly gesture, one clearly appreciated by Dolores. Life on the streets is never easy, and things have become much worse since one of Charlie's fellow announcers, Kevin O'Hanlon, has been whipping up negative public sentiment against sex trade workers. His followers, O'Hanlon's Warriors, have launched a campaign of public harassment which has rapidly escalated from name-calling to low-level violence. As Charlie heads into radio station CVOX ("All Talk/All the Time"), where he works as the host of a late-night call-in show at, he has no idea that this is the last time he will see Dolores. Tonight's feature guest expert on the Valentine's Day edition of The World According to Charlie D is Misty de Vol Burgh, the 25-year-old wife of Henry, an 83-year-old billionaire. Unlike Dolores, Misty didn't work the streets. Instead, she was an extremely successful and highly-priced escort and now, thanks to her husband's generosity, she is the owner of CVOX. Tonight, she is going to talk about what she did best in her former profession: providing "satisfaction."
However, O'Hanlon's Warriors have already left their calling card on the door to the studio: an obscene drawing of Misty and her husband, Henry, captioned with the warning that "Sexually transmitted diseases kill. Kill a whore before she kills you." (8) Clearly, this is not going to be a "hearts and flowers" type of evening, although the show's producer, Nova, is clearly thrilled with the roses that Charlie has brought her (But, why did Charlie buy 13 roses? A dozen is standard, so why 13? An ominous choice...) But the show begins as usual, and it is clear that Misty is in her element; she is unashamed of her past, quietly proud of having done well at her work, and she is very clear in making the point that the satisfaction she provided her clients was less about sex and more about providing "closeness . . . someone who will listen and not judge." (21) The callboard fills up very quickly, and not surprisingly, one of the callers is a woman who promotes "family values," inveighing against prostitutes and the sexual sin that they represent. The show continues, and very soon Nova has received a truly horrific e-mail on her control room computer: a real-time video of a manacled woman, repeatedly and gruesomely stabbed to death by a naked masked man. At the end of the murder, the assailant looks at the clock on the wall behind him and states: "Time of the whore's death, 11:00 pm Atlantic Standard Time. The next whore will die at 11:00 Eastern Standard Time. Tune in early, Charlie D. You don't want to miss the execution. To find us on YouTube, just type in the words live murder whore." (42)
O'Hanlon's Warriors are behind the brutality, and Charlie has to act fast to prevent the next death. But, in a world of viral videos, it's hard to act fast enough; two more women are murdered before the carnage ends and Charlie learns that the third victim is Dolores, the recipient of the thirteenth rose.
The Thirteenth Rose is as gripping a read as the three previous titles in Gail Bowen's contributions to the "Rapid Reads" series. Despite the topic of Charlie's Valentine's Day call-in show, the sex (and there's plenty of talk about sex on that particular show) is largely about connection and caring – not porn and positions. And, as in the previous Charlie D stories, (Love You to Death, One Fine Day You're Gonna Die, and The Shadow Killer), the relationship between Nova and Charlie continues to develop; it's well past a simmer, and now that Charlie has seen Henry and Misty's daughter, he confesses to "a bad case of baby lust." (84)
The Thirteenth Rose is not just an easy-to-read suspense novel; it also provides an incisive perspective on the lives of sex trade workers, the dangers they face, and a reminder that the public media cannot be used as a forum from which to disseminate hatred and bigotry against them. The Dolores to whom Charlie gave that thirteenth rose was a woman who lived a tough life, but she had a kind and generous heart. Fans of Bowen's other "Rapid Reads" novels will not be disappointed by this one, and those who haven't yet read her other works can certainly start with this one. The Thirteenth Rose will appeal equally to adult readers and to reluctant senior high school students. The provocative cover photo will probably get the attention of male readers, and readers of both genders will find that the story moves quickly. Yet another great choice for senior high school libraries from the "Rapid Reads" series (both the content and some of the language make this unlikely to appeal to readers under age 16)! Oh, but a cautionary note is in order – before putting the book out for loan, read the book through, just in case parents or colleagues have strong opinions about "family values" and have objections to the story.
Joanne Peters, a retired high school teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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