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Romeo Spikes (Lo-Life) Hardcover – August 14, 2012

3.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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About the Author

First-time author Joanne Reay began as a documentary maker for The Discovery Channel, where her films focused on the mysteries of brain function and the human mind. She moved to the BBC, creating the acclaimed detective series The Murder Rooms. As a film writer/producer, her credits include Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis, Cold & Dark, and Gallowwalker.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



She ignores him. Her lacquered fingernails agitate the cashew bowl.

He forges on. “Fifty-five. But firmer than I was at forty. Lotta fruit and fiber. And fish oil.”

He moves closer. A blast of breath in her ear. “So what’s your secret?”

“I eat six pounds of grapes a day.”

“That’s a lot of grapes.”

“Not when you squeeze them down to wine.” She turns to him. “The night is young. Fish elsewhere.”

She feels the ripple of his departure. Turns back to the bar and taps the bowl of her wineglass.

The young barman responds to her semaphore, picks up a bottle, and approaches with a boyish grin. His hair is surfed into a halo of gold.

“It’s the rioja, right?”

He twists the cork, dialing up the volume of his appeal. The woman tilts her chin. Not in answer to his question, but to pull taut a hammock of neck flesh.

She watches as he pours the glass brimful. Pirouettes her fingers about the stem. “Won’t you join me?”

“I’m working.”

“Join me later?”

“Aren’t you waiting for someone?”

Her fur coat swamps the adjacent stool but she wafts a finger in dismissal. “Just company business.”

“Well, if you’re wanting company, ma’am”—the barman motions a finger between his chest and hers—“that’s business too.”

Her purse snaps open. She pulls out three twenty-dollar bills. “What does that get me?”

“Fresh nuts.”

She withdraws, jaw tight.

“Lady, this is Manhattan.” He taps the cash. “And that don’t get you a man.”

She rolls back her shoulders, hoisting her breasts. “Ten years ago, I would have been your fantasy. I looked very different.”

“Did you look like Spider-Man?”

She grimaces. Froths her hair with furious fingers. How young is he . . . ?

He moves to take the bottle, but she snatches it by the neck.

“I’m not finished. Not yet.”

The barman gathers up one of the twenties. “That should cover it.” Glances at the bottle. “It’s just the dregs.”

She watches as he turns and walks away. His whole life ahead of him.

And mine? She inhales deeply. All her best years lay behind, spilled like the trail of a dancing drunk.

Squandered. Scattered.

The young Annie Torgus had graduated top of her class with a doctorate in psychiatry. Her specialty was the early diagnosis of suicidal tendencies. The perception may be that suicide is a practice of the poor, but evidence shows a life of dull luxury to be the sharper spur.

Renting costly offices on the Upper West Side, she imagines a wealthy clientele clamoring for her services. Anxious parents, perhaps, of a teenage girl who festers in her bedroom. To draw her out, Mommy and Daddy have applied a poultice of promises: a new Porsche, a trip to Paris, a pony in the upper field—but nothing has worked. So they urgently call upon Dr. Annie Torgus. And she comes at once, and at quite a price.

Easy money.

But the young doctor is kept awake by the sound of her phone not ringing. Her debts rise and so, to raise her profile, she rushes to publish, submitting a lengthy article to the New Scientist. With a racy title, “How the Kids Hang in the Hamptons,” the article exposes a culture of self-harm and suicide amongst the wealthy teens of New York. Snatched up by the New York Times, her shocking data flies across the Sunday pages. Radio stations ring for interviews and television soon chases after, faster still once it discovers that Dr. Annie Torgus is young and big-breasted. But as the media spotlight intensifies, it becomes an invasive, burning heat, igniting her research and turning it to ashes. Dr. Annie Torgus, it transpires, fabricated the statistics and falsified the teenage testimony. The glitter she saw surrounding her career turns out to be knives, and, blow by blow, amid howls of derision from her peers, her professional reputation is destroyed.

Sliced. Shredded.

Sued by everyone, she struggles on, living off store cards. Until she’s thrown out of her apartment at Broadway and Fourth, landing back in the swamps of Louisiana where she was born. And where the only local employer is Morphic Fields Penitentiary. The black brick structure looms like a mausoleum, and appropriately so, as more prisoners await their execution here than at any other facility.

There is a position available and, faced with little local competition, she secures the job of chief psychiatric officer. Her duty is to monitor suicidal tendencies amongst the inmates. The urge to kill oneself is a prime indicator of insanity, and a suicide attempt is all too often used by appeals lawyers to certify an inmate’s unsound mind. A stay of execution frequently follows. The warden of Morphic Fields, who resents any disturbance to the natural delivery of death within his domain, decides to create the post of prison psychiatric officer to stifle this trend. On her first day, walking into the concrete bunker of her office, Annie Torgus assesses her job as this: to stop death-row prisoners from taking their own lives.

The irony is not lost upon her.

Her sense of purpose is lost forever.

She works alone, day after day, year after year, examining the inmates, declaring them sane and signing away their last chance of appeal. Clutching her clipboard and ticking the boxes, she idly imagines that Warden Duggin might eventually decide to extend her responsibilities one degree further, one gesture more—to have her swish her signature and then plunge her pen deep into the inmate’s carotid artery, ripping wide a hole, a gushing slash . . .

She splashes the last of the wine into her glass. Knocks it back. Thirty-five years she has been at Morphic Fields. Her whole life . . . a life sentence.

The glass stem lowers, unleashing her reflection onto the mirror behind the bar. She grimaces at the old woman who stares back at her.

Hair too black, too brittle. Eyes rolled in wrinkles. And those hands, those ancient hands. Spotted, scaly, fatless claws—

The bitter self-attack continues until she slams down her fist and loudly orders another bottle, drags an angry cuff across her eyes. God, no wonder when people off themselves, they shoot their head.

She inhales slowly. Eases back a sleeve to expose her watch. It is later than she thought. She pulls her coat from the adjacent stool. He could arrive at any moment. She needs to compose herself. Remember why she is here. Remember at least his name.

She urgently fumbles in her pocket, retrieving a business card. Holds it at arm’s length, straining to read the small cursive print.

Christopher Hatchling—Senior Buyer, Phobos Books

On the journey out from Louisiana, idling hours at the airport, she bought a Phobos title: Pharaohs from a Far-Flung Star. A brick of a book, it promised to “stun the reader.”

If it falls on your skull, then perhaps.

Torgus peeled back the gold-embossed cover and her heart sank as she scanned the trashy text within. But she plowed on, commending herself that she was, at least, doing some research. Then a thought burned her brain: If I’d done my research thirty-five years ago, I wouldn’t now be reduced to this. Offering a tawdry publishing house what she knows to be an earth-shattering manuscript.

How could they ever appreciate the prophecy it holds? So strange, so obscure . . .

But this raw material fell into her hands and it will be her salvation.

She pulls her spine straight. Lifts her chin. Reminds herself that Annie is short for Anstice—a Greek name, reflecting her roots. It means “resurrection.” She will rise again.

I’m not finished. Not yet.

She pulls a small mirror from her purse. Checks her teeth for lipstick and her lips for teeth marks. Her habit is to bite down hard when nerves attack. The mirror twists in her palm as she searches the bar behind her. She’d like to see Christopher Hatchling before he sees her. She needs that fractional head start, to drop her face into a casual cradle of welcome.

The mirror picks up a man. His hair tumbles in thick curls. Dr. Torgus thins her lips. She had hoped for someone older, as suggested by the epithet senior buyer. But Hatchling it is. Fresh from the egg of ambition. He strides across the carpet, nose up and neck extended. She recognizes the gander-gait of a man arriving for lunch with a mystery woman. She waves her hand, and, as his eyes connect, his swagger slows.

“Dr. Torgus, I’m sorry I’m late.”

I’m sorry I’m old.

She delivers a shallow smile, so as not to ripple more wrinkles. “You’re quite on time.” She takes a deep swig, fluffs her hair. “I can recommend the rioja, if you would like a glass.”

“Too early for me.”

Too young, too young . . .

She tosses her hair and inside her head, the alcohol swills the rim of her skull.

I can do this!

Her voice drops, husky now. Or haggard. She can no longer tell. “So, Christopher . . . are you ready?”

She lifts her bag between her legs, reaches deep into the old, brown folds. “I have something very special to show you.”

And from within, she lifts a tightly bound file.

Product Details

  • Series: Lo-Life
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (August 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451674449
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451674446
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,225,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Washed up, disgraced psychiatrist Dr. Annie Torgus has got quite a story, and she's determined to sell it to the highest bidder. For the past 35 years she's worked at a prison called Morphic Fields, attempting to thwart suicide in death row inmates (the irony is not lost on her), and she's convinced that there is something "otherworldly" about convicted child killer Agnus Day. Agnus has Gershwind syndrome that cause him to write compulsively on every surface, and he's been known to portend trouble for the prison staff. Meanwhile, Detective Alexis Bianco is onto something too. Her latest case has her stumped, after the medical examiner came back with the news that the bones of a 22 year old girl are supposedly over 400 years old. This case leads her to Lola, a woman whose sole job is to hunt down and kill the Tormenta; demons that torment people into committing suicide so they can siphon their remaining lifespan. The Tormenta may be the least of humankind's problems, however, because the Mosca is coming...

Romeo Spikes takes place in Louisiana and its bayous, and having just visited New Orleans, I can honestly say that the author couldn't have used a more perfect location for this story. Morphic Fields is decidedly creepy, and the Tormenta are terrifying, just like the methods they use to increase their lifespans. I loved strong, smart Alexis Bianco and actually developed a bit of a soft spot for Lola. The demon mythology is fascinating and Ms. Reay manages to balance quite a cast of characters deftly. There are tons of plates spinning in the air in this head banger of a book, and I don't recall one of them breaking. There's so much awesome in Romeo Spikes, I'm not sure what to highlight, to be honest.
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Format: Hardcover
Once a leading neurophysicist, who researched molecular telomeres that control longevity, Dr. Agnus Day lost his mind when his daughter died. He vanished only to reappear in a coma at a horrible murder scene. Now he resides at Morphic Fields Penitentiary where he suffers from Geschwind syndrome, which leaves him out of control of his mind and body as he obsessively is compelled to write down the "violent, inhuman visions" that haunt him. He is unaware what he sees ties back to the Tormenta demons whose sustenance is devouring the predetermined life not used when a mortal commits suicide, which these beasts "encourage" in their human form.

Homicide Detective Alexis Bianco soon learns about the Tormenta and their adversarial human protectors the Chiro Scuro when she meets Lola who effortlessly places her in a chokehold to get her attention. At the same time these demons are extremely active in anticipation of the arrival of the dark messiah Mosca; while knowing that the arrival of their champion means the Sinistra angels' Moera will follow. All will converge on Morphic Fields Penitentiary where a mad researcher sits on death row while his avaricious shrink sees fame and fortune.

This is an extremely complex opening act of the powerful paranormal thriller that grips readers from start to finish. In some ways the various organizations competing for top gun can prove confusing as there seems to be a Cecil B. De Mille size cast. Though a glossary or "family tree" would have helped, fans will appreciate this superb supernatural that brilliantly brings angels and demons into the contemporary world in which the good go insane, the bad are mortal protectors and the ugly are demons and often angels.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Hardcover
I don’t read much in Urban Fantasy, to be honest.

I think it’s because there is such a massive emphasis placed on certain things that always seem prevalent in the genre, which, unfortunately, bring it closer to Paranormal Romance. There are plenty of authors I’ve yet to read, and the ones that I have delved into (Kate Griffin, Seanan McGuire and Chuck Wendig, to name a few) have impressed me.

Urban Fantasy has to, in my opinion, succeed at the following:

1) it must be set, largely, in an urban environment. The genre isn’t Country Fantasy. 2) There must be sufficient secondary world-building to make the reader miss the urban environment, and vice versa. 3) The magic has to be interesting and different – Kate Griffin and Chuck Wendig succeed massively at this. Among, of course the other necessities, such as good character growth, and interesting plot, etc.

When I first set to reading ‘Romeo Spikes’ I struggled to get into the book – not because it was badly written (it isn’t), or because it wasn’t interesting (it is), but because it was different. It’s one of the ways that I know I’ll enjoy a book – the difficulty of the read added to the certainty that I want to read the book.

‘Romeo Spikes’ doesn’t have fairies, or fae. There’s no Celtic-feel to it, and neither does it have a Norse flavour. Joanne manages to create a world that is at once surprising as it is interesting, bringing in a Biblical-mythology layer that makes her world fresh and captivating, which allows the characters to react and change as they should in a world they don’t know much about. The exploration of the world, as a reader, was one of the highlights of the book, for sure.
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