MAGGIE OF MY HEART by Alyson Faye
Set in post-war England in the 1940s, Maggie of My Heart harkens back to the classic black and white film noirs of the era and, like all good noirs, boasts a killer femme fatale in Maggie, a young woman whose past life of abuse at the hands of a former lover comes back to haunt her.
Working as an escort in the seedy bars of London, Maggie finds herself falling for a charming conman named Johnny. Their relationship sours as Johnny becomes increasingly violent and unpredictable, and Maggie finds an out via marriage to a wealthy businessman, fleeing to Birmingham to escape and start her new life.
Johnny has no intention of letting Maggie leave, however, and finds her again years later, keen to rekindle what they once had. As Maggie finds herself being blackmailed and feeling increasingly trapped, she must take drastic action to escape the clutches of the man she once loved once and for all.
This crime-noir centric line from Demain Publishing promises Murder(!) Mystery(!) and Mayhem(!) and while that suggests an all-action pulp epic, ‘Maggie of My Heart’ plays things a little different. It is a love letter to 1940s Femme Fatales and while there is murder within its pages, along with blackmail, barrooms and sexual tension aplenty, there is also an air of tragedy around the story, told as it is from the perspective of a young woman who, while barely out of her twenties, has lived a difficult life, and one that she finds increasingly difficult to extract herself from.
The book's success largely hinges on Maggie as a character and, in this regard, it is a rousing success. Rather than defaulting to a stereotypical damsel in distress, or the other extreme, painting her as a heartless, unfeeling character, Faye delivers a nuanced and complex protagonist. Maggie is depicted as intelligent, resourceful and willing to stand up for herself, but she is often plagued by self-doubt and, in the heat of a particularly bad moment, can (and does) make bad decisions. These traits make her very human and immensely relatable, and you feel bad for her when she finds herself almost unwilling to extricate herself from Johnny, who is far more explicitly a ‘bad guy’ and has few, if any, redeeming qualities (at least in the reader's eyes) and cheer her when she takes proactive steps to improve her lot in life. The story may not be brimming with originality, but Maggie is more than capable of carrying it and is an absolute joy to read.
‘Maggie of My Heart’ authentically captures the spirit of a very stylised and romanticised era of film and lays it all out on the page, perfectly achieving the cynicism and seedy tone, layering it with a complex and relatable character that elevates the material. Fans of the genre will no doubt leave satisfied, and Alyson Faye is good enough that she will likely win over other readers as well. 5 Stars
Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.