Speak to Our Desires
by Brenda W. Clough
Review by Colleen Cahill
Book View Cafe Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B0052Q9R06
Date: 25 May 2011 List Price $4.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Certain images come to my mind when I think of the 1960s: psychedelic hippies, social unrest, my childhood (oops, too much information), but rarely do I think of private detectives meeting femme fatales. That is what Speak to Our Desires seems to be about in the first pages, but Brenda Clough has taken this cliché to a whole new realm of the fantastic, one that is both enthralling and chilling.
Tim Coates can hardly believe it, but when Ellie Quartern walks into is office, it is like the set up of a noir film: "a beautiful blonde, very young but perfect" with tears on her cheeks and begging for help. Tim wonders if he is on Candid Camera. This turns out to be a real request, as the gorgeous seventeen year old needs help to find her mother and since she is also a very successful model, she can pay. Ellie is one of the new young faces on fashion magazines in 1968 and she certainly has an electric effect on Tim, as he begins thinking of marriage in less than one hour after their meeting, never mind that he is almost 40. As Tim begins delving into the case, he discovers this is no ordinary beautiful girl and her background holds many mysteries.
Ellie has not seen her mom since she ran away from home several years before. Clues are short on the ground as there is not even a photograph of Ruby Quartern, who Ellie claimed was a prostitute and murder. Ruby always lived under any government radar and moved regularly. What is mysterious becomes strange when Ellie claims she and her mother both have the power to see anyone's deepest desires. At this point, Tim finds his noir tale takes an abrupt turn into the Twilight Zone. Describing a life where everyone "wears their heart on their sleeve", Ellie also shows that this is not a great super power and it has often backfired on her. Mostly she used it to manipulate people and since Ellie is still young, she often does not see the consequences of her actions. Running away from home is just the first step in some very unpleasant adventures for Ellie, although her luck changes when she enters a home for run-aways in New York City run by a Priest. It is here she is discovered and begins her modeling career. Since Ellie is beautiful and can always tell exactly what the photographer wants in a shot, she is the perfect model. Why she is seeking her mother is less clear. The more time Tim spends with her, the more obsessed he becomes, and obsession that is eerie in itself.
This is a story about power and what it costs. Ellie is certainly not God-like, but she does have an edge up on the rest of humanity. How her mother dealt with the talent was to hide, fearing that the government would use her for various experiments. While Ellis is a bit more pragmatic, she too is concerned about keeping things quiet, so Tim is only one of three people who know about her ability. Part of the tension in this tale is the question of how much is Tim being emotionally manipulated and is Ellis doing this consciously. The ending is the biggest surprise and one that has kept me thinking back on this book again and again.
There is plenty of the 1960s in this tale, but what will really hook you in Speak to Our Desires is not the trip into the past, but the wild and strange story of people with some unusually powers, ones that might be more controlling than controlled.