Back with a vengeance: Review of Revenge, the second book in the trilogy Psycho-Analysis by Catherine Nuza

Barely six months after publishing the first book of her trilogy ‘Psycho-Analysis’, Catherine Nuza has released the second part, featuring a harrowing front-cover photo designed by the author. She describes ‘Revenge’ as the ‘pinnacle’ of the tale of a broken man riddled with bloodlust for his an-eye-for-an-eye justice. She was seventeen when she created Khedlar, a hero/antihero who morphs into a monster after growing up within a fragmented reality in which he has nobody to trust and turn to. However, the manuscript was left on the backburner until she and her wife and proofreader Angelique realised its value not just as fiction, but as case study – purely fictional, and yet crudely realistic in its make-believe parallel universe of ethically arguable society rules.

After ‘Khedlar’s Story – The Beginning’ cliffhanger ending, it was only fair that fans demanded to know the truth as much as the protagonist does, so Catherine worked around the clock to ‘flesh out’ her unravelling plot and, with Angelique’s collaboration, she completed the third installment, ‘Into The Shadows’, due for publication this summer, tying all loose ends after revenge is exacted and all family jewels are finally appraised.

At the end of Book One, Khedlar escapes the mental asylum he was unlawfully detained at with nothing to lose, since he has already lost his only double reason to live – his wife and daughter, whose murders he is accused of – except his desire of saving his daughter’s soul. He feels nothing but hatred now, so he is as driven to revenge as his reality is eroded by years of abuse and medication, and he seeks to uncover his family’s own agenda, by confronting the pawns in a mind game larger than themselves.

The action is set in present-time Dawn Vines, poetic toponymy for a dark territory with despicable secrets and where tradition is… murder. “Dawn Vines is completely made up and not at all inspired to any real cities on this planet, unlike in other novels where you can clearly see New York or London for example behind the gossamer veil of pseudonym, accurate down to the bend the river traces across the metropolis…” Angelique explains. “Here what matters is not a sense of place, but the pulsions that govern its citizens.” In fact, every society has its norms and what is normal for one may not be for others; and surely in Dawn Vines’s traditions are based on a moral code that makes most of us shudder: Catherine drops hints about cannibalism as a ritual practice performed in this society, whose rules outsiders are requested to abide, or else just run, if they don’t want to become prey. Rites of initiation may be the trigger of Khedlar’s misfortunes, and the labyrinth of lies that tarnishes his childhood and adolescence is responsible for his psychopathy, yet very lucid in his quest for justice.

“I am from South Africa,” Angelique explains, “where European heritage balances the strong native society, so that monotheism, witchcraft, hoodoo, shamanism and cannibalism coexist. Despite certain practices being frowned upon and ruled illegal, they still play a big part in tradition. This inspired the motives behind Dawn Vines self-containing set of rules, which may be an abomination to any rationalist, but cannot be denied because they are steeped in heritage. We all exercise some kind of ‘socio-police’ role, enforcing what is normal to our individual or collective judgment, yet one cannot blindly accept tradition if it goes against conscience, and this subjective questioning is what makes the character of Khedlar come to life.”

Catherine Nuza

Step by step, Khedlar reconstructs the past his family and carers have kept from him, finding out who his aunt and uncle really are. One may think that his bloodlust ran in the blood, but the reasons for Khedlar’s wife and daughter’s disappearance are far more sinister and ‘convoluted’, thus the Nuzas describe them. The trilogy opens on Khedlar being accused of having butchered the only two individuals to whom he has developed a healthy attachment, and being interned in a mental institution after their bodies aren’t found and any proof for conviction is circumstantial, yet he is slowly but surely instilled with guilt, no matter how strongly he protests his innocence, and he is given psychotropic medication that, being unnecessary, instead of healing him, leads him down a path of psychotic episodes. Here, the author introduces a veiled criticism to the current ‘Dr Knock’ mentality that maintains there is a miracle pill to pop for every alleged illness, even those diagnosed out of excess zeal, for character traits with no cure laid out in the future, attributable only to lack of prevention. Later, doubt storms his already fragile mind when he is told that his wife cheated on him and his precious daughter isn’t really his, so that the reader may be led to believe that the double murder amounts to a honour killing carried out by senior family members to preserve the clan reputation; but there are far chillier reasons behind it, and it is the doing of more than one individual, covering up for each other. If Khedlar exacts his revenge at the end of Book Two, it will take the entire Book Three to disclose the whole horrifying truth of a deeply dysfunctional family, proving that psychopathic tendencies may run in the family indeed, but nurture is as much responsible as nature when it comes to unleash the evil nestled in one’s genes.

Catherine points out that Khedlar wasn’t born evil, but was made so by circumstances, and she manages to sketch a likable character with flashes of dark humour to endear him to his audience, who can visualise his wrath in peaks of exaggerated violence. “Some passages remind me of Quentin Tarantino’s style,” Angelique purports.  “The scene in ‘Kill Bill’, where the samurai slashes his opponents and then orders everyone out, and the victims just stand up, gather their detached limbs, and hobble out of frame… this kind of surreal, almost cartoonish, dark humour, the outlandish brutality that audiences enjoy, is employed throughout the novel to defuse the tension and make the protagonist multifaceted.” There’s catharsis in a quick chuckle, or cackle, and if laughter won’t bury you, surely will terminate the family no-one can choose not to be born into.

Angelique describes Khedlar as a psychopath rather than a sociopath, because his actions are random, while a sociopath would be cool and collected in mimicking what is considered normal behaviour. “Khedlar is socially awkward as a child as much as he is as an adult,” Catherine says, “and he has to practise his moves and facial expressions in front of a mirror like an actor before stepping out in the real world searching for the murderer, for his little girl’s sake.” Pages are spent to describe his psychology in detail, as he matures and develops the kind of self-assurance he needs for his mission.

His counterparts are steely sociopaths and he is has to gear up for a clash of titans: “This is a controlling clan in which survival of the fittest is the dominant rule,” Catherine adds. “The matriarch is narcissistic and she loves to play her children against each other for her own benefit. And they fall for her web of deceit, because they don’t know any better. There is method in her madness, and what looks like warped reality to us is perfectly logical for her. This is indeed horrifying to our ethical system, and we come to question it as much as Khedlar does. This book is intense and pure horror, not for the faint-hearted like my pitch claims, but it also is thought-provoking as it puts you in Khedlar’s shoes and begs the question: what would you do in his stead, if you were pushed to insanity by your own flesh and blood? Is murder ever justifiable in a state-of-nature society that doesn’t legislate against it?”

The noir fascination with Dawn Vines doesn’t end here for Catherine, who is already spinning the plot for ‘The Artist’, an independent trilogy set there, and a stand-alone thriller titled ‘Remember Me’, set in Hag’s Cliff, the outskirts of Dawn Vines where tribal societies dwell.

‘The Beginning’ and ‘Revenge’ are published in Alaska (to add the extra chill down your spine), and are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and soon as audio-books. For updates and trivia, visit CatherineNuza.org.