Elizabeth Massie – Hell Gate
During a career that spans almost thirty years, Elizabeth Massie managed to build for herself a unique voice which, in turn, helps her more easily create almost any kind of fiction. Until now she has committed to paper the most varied of literary creations, from poetry to historic fiction, horror, novelizations, children and YA stories, but also mainstream fiction. There are not a lot of writers who can show such mobility and diversity of narrative registries. That is why when the learned reader happens on such a writer (an encyclopedic, almost Renaissance spirit) all too often he/she acknowledges his/her presence from the first few sentences. That is what happened for me with Massie, a couple of years ago, while reading her collections Shadow Dreams. In that book, the author showed her powers as a true literary force, being inventive, versatile, and artistic. Now, with Hell Gate, her latest novel to date, Elizabeth Massie confirms once again that she is a first rate writer.
In Hell Gate the story shifts between young Suzanne Heath’s childhood, and the years of her first education, and the present, which in this case is the year 1909. Massie succeeds in this oscillating technique, introducing the elements of the narrative discourse in such a manner to achieve the maximum effect – an essential thing for a story where the identity game is of the utmost importance.
Suzanne Heath has a special gift – she is a clairvoyant. Because of this she suffered a lot during childhood; because of this she suffers a lot in the present, too. For in Coney Island, where she is now working as a ticket seller (after she ran away, together with her Negro friend Cittie Parker, from the shelter where she’d been recovering from an accident that resulted in her losing her memory) in Coney Island, horrible and seemingly inexplicable crimes are taking place. Suzanne is asked to give a helping hand. Lieutenant Granger’s daughter, a colleague of Suzanne’s, knows about her strange talent and convinces her father that the young girl is his only chance to find the elusive killer. Facing everybody’s disapproval, the Lieutenant shows her his full official trust, thus bringing her into an affair that concerns her more than she thinks at the beginning.
Slowly, the things take a turn for the worst, new victims show up, people killed in the most horrible ways possible, and Suzanne reaches – through a struggle with herself – a terrifying conclusion. The past which has been hidden from her turns into a true gate of hell.
Massie builds a believable story by masterfully rebuilding the world as it was at the turn of the 20th century. Her characters successfully carry on a difficult script, making of Hell Gate a staggering psychological horror novel whose ending will take by surprise even the most jaded reader.
A thought-provoking journey from an author who really knows her craft.