Frequent Q&Q reviewer Robert J. Wiersema has a decided taste for the fantastical, as two of his earlier novels, Bedtime Story and The World More Full of Weeping, demonstrate. His new book, Black Feathers, continues that tradition: there’s a point about halfway through when we realize we have no idea what’s real and what’s imagined. Prior to this, Wiersema lulls us into believing that what we are reading is a straightforward thriller.
Young Cassie Weathers is living on the wintry streets of Victoria after fleeing home in the wake of a traumatic event. Befriending another runaway, she finds refuge in a community of castaways headed by a charismatic man known only as Brother Paul. But dark forces haunt the city. Someone has been brutally killing prostitutes – and the killer has now set his sights on Cassie.
Wiersema creates a brooding atmosphere of malevolence, prefacing each chapter with a section from the killer’s perspective, then cutting to Cassie’s point of view. A balancing act between good and evil is thus established, and the tale becomes one of dualities: light and dark, hunted and hunter, day and night.
Watching over the action is a black crow, a potent symbol of death or, in its guise as a raven in the west coast tradition, trickery. That second interpretation is important, because as Wiersema spins his web, it becomes clear that Cassie suffers from night terrors, increasingly sliding into a world where reality and nightmare blend in frightening ways, the murders becoming vividly tangible to her.
Cassie’s struggle to distinguish between fact and fiction and unmask the killer mirrors her struggle to come to terms with her own identity, sexual and otherwise. Who is she, exactly, and how can she find it in herself to survive what’s happening to her and around her? As more of Cassie’s dreams about the deaths and what occurred at home are revealed, she begins to question her sanity. “Was this what it felt like to go crazy?” she asks.
Meanwhile, we’re left questioning everything Wiersema has presented. And it’s that ability to keep us guessing that makes this such a disturbing and disconcertingly good read.