Death in Her Hands

Penguin. Pr. Apr. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781984879356. $27. F
This unnerving latest from Moshfegh offers a truly creepy murder mystery while commenting on our relationship to the genre itself. Vesta Gul, an elderly widow who recently purchased a cabin at an abandoned Girl Scout campsite, is walking her dog in the woods when she encounters a carefully tended note: “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” There is no body and no other indication that Vesta had intruders on her property, but treating this bizarre circumstance like a mystery an author might write, she endeavors to solve it using techniques gleaned from the Internet. Vesta conjures a full backstory for Magda, providing the unseen victim with interior motives and desires that mirror Vesta’s own. Even as Vesta’s grasp on reality deteriorates and readers begin to understand what the author is up to, Moshfegh continues to drill deep into her lonely protagonist’s psyche and upend our expectations of mystery writing.
VERDICT This doesn’t register quite as indelibly as Moshfegh’s earlier novels, as Vesta is not as compelling as Eileen’s title heroine or the unnamed protagonist of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Still, recommended for fans of the author, as well as Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
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