Reading M.J. Rose's novels is like having great sex with a familiar partner. Even before you begin, you know it's going to be good. During, it's a host of things: hot and comfortable, intense and soothing, reliable and fun. Afterwards, well, afterwards you are left with seemingly opposing feelings of pure satisfaction and intense want for more --- that is, in this case, more from M.J. Rose.
And so it should be no surprise that sex and seduction almost always play at least a strong supporting role in Rose's work. In her latest novel, THE HALO EFFECT, human sexuality, in all its permutations, persuasions and perversions, takes center stage. Dr. Morgan Snow, recently divorced, is a New York City sex therapist at the Butterfield Institute, where (I break no confidences in telling you) her clients range from fiends who fancy odd fetishisms to couples whose love lives have reached new levels of lackluster. Additionally, she closely works with imprisoned street hookers, trying to reform them and encourage them to do more with their lives.
But it's a high-class call girl who has most of Dr. Snow's attention and concern. Her patient, Cleo Thane --- beautiful, refined and intelligent --- has written a tell-all book about her chosen profession and the thinly disguised clientele who have kept her in expensive clothes and jewelry over the years. In their interactions (their appointments in Dr. Snow's office mostly), Rose once again shows us her strong grasp of human nature and human sexuality. As Cleo describes her "dates" you can't help but feel that Cleo, and M.J. Rose, have clearer insight into the workings of the male and female mind than most of us possess.
When Cleo fails to make one session, then another and then another, Dr. Snow treads dangerously into the working girl's world to try to find her --- and rediscovers her own feminine prowess and attraction to the opposite sex. Not to mention how much she and Cleo share in common in their different lines of work.
At the same time, the handsome Detective Noah Jordain seeks Dr. Snow's help with the Magdalene Murders --- the serial murders of prostitutes. Working parallel investigations, Dr. Snow, an unlikely hero, and Detective Jordain find more than just the murderer; they find each other.
These murders solved, Dr. Snow will be back. M.J. Rose promises a series of stories from the Butterfield Institute. No doubt, all will be equally thrilling and provocative --- just like great sex with a familiar partner.
--- Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara
M.J. Rose has made a practice of writing novels that defy easy categorization. Her latest novel, THE HALO EFFECT, will certainly appeal to fans of the suspense/thriller genre. The work, however, balances the elements that make that genre so popular with a strong erotic component, while also possessing the orderly inquisitiveness of a police procedural, thus creating a work that will please followers of all of those genres while not conforming precisely to any of them.
This is the first of a projected series of The Butterfield Institute novels, and readers will be storming the barricades waiting for the next. The primary focus of THE HALO EFFECT is Dr. Morgan Snow, who balances work and motherhood with an uneasy success that has left her personal life out of the equation and, to some extent, cost her a marriage. Snow is intrigued by a patient of hers named Cleo Thane, a woman with a very unique occupation and problem. Thane is a partner and employee of The Diablo Club, where membership is exclusive and expensive. The club caters to men who are among the richest and most powerful in the world, and who have specific sexual requirements. Thane is very good at what she does.
The problem for which Thane is seeking treatment at The Butterfield Institute is that she has become emotionally involved with a man --- not a client --- and is unable to enjoy sexual relations with him. Thane is also on the brink of publishing a book about her business and her experiences, with the identities of her high-profile clientele only thinly disguised, and fears that the revelations contained in the book will damage, if not destroy, her relationship with her significant other.
She entrusts a copy of her manuscript to Snow with the hope that Snow will be able to offer advice as to whether or not she should publish the manuscript. But when Thane suddenly disappears, Snow thinks that one of Thane's clients, fearful of the revelations in her manuscript, may be responsible. Elias Beecher, Thane's significant other, is frantic over her disappearance and the seeming lack of interest on the part of the New York City Police Department. However, the NYPD has no evidence that Thane's absence is anything other than voluntary and has its collective hands full with another matter.
Prostitutes are being ritualistically murdered, with their bodies left in midtown hotel rooms. The first victim is a former patient of Snow's, and she fears that Thane may be yet another victim. Seeking to investigate the disappearance while preserving her patient's confidentiality, Snow begins a dangerous game, clandestinely meeting Thane's clients in order to get some clue as to whether or not any of them could be behind her disappearance, or possibly linked to the serial prostitute murders. Her investigation, and her life, are further complicated by her attraction to Noah Jordain, a police detective who is investigating the murders and who is concerned that the investigation will bring her into the killer's crosshairs --- a fear that comes true all too quickly.
Casa del Hartlaub was fortunate enough to have two copies of THE HALO EFFECT on site, and Goodwife Hartlaub, who is not normally a suspense/thriller buff, was up for two straight nights reading this work while I raced through my own copy. Rose has the unique ability to explain complex concepts in a straightforward, simplified manner without talking down to her audience and without bringing a screeching halt to the narrative. The result is an evenly paced narrative that subtly races along, almost without the reader being aware of it.
THE HALO EFFECT also contains the opening pages of THE DELILAH COMPLEX, the next volume of The Butterfield Institute novels, which is not scheduled to be published until April 2005. That, I fear, will be too long of a wait for Rose's legion of new fans.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara and Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011