Mistress of suspense, Rachael Tamayo, is back with another hair-raising thriller. Carnal Knowledge a riveting, heart-pounding, double-check-your-locks-and-close-your-curtains novel about a killer with an unquenchable lust for blood.
Someone is hunting Wren Addison. Someone so depraved, I blasted through nearly 300 pages in a weekend just to find out–just so I could get some sleep. I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder, listening to every house creak and wind-battered tree. Of course, I decided to read this novel during a rainy weekend. What better weather is there for horror?
Horror is precisely what drags us into the novel. Written in lightning-fast, present tense, Tamayo thrusts the reader into Wren’s gruesome tragedy on page one. She steals our breath with the worst-case-scenario and never slows the pace to let us catch it. Tamayo’s to-hunt-a-killer narrative offers engrossing twists and turns. Just when we feel it’s safe to maybe put the book down, grab another cup of coffee, and feed our grumpy cat, disaster and danger spring from the shadows. Tamayo’s plot-focused thriller rushes us from scene to scene, horror to horror; putting Carnal Knowledge down isn’t an option until you unravel the mystery threatening to destroy Wren’s life.
Who is Wren? Well, she’s a twenty-six-year-old law assistant, newly separated, and trying to piece her life back together after a devastating betrayal and a totally-not-her-fault DUI. It’s at her lowest this enigmatic serial killer strikes. They torture Wren with sexual games, mind-altering drugs, and midnight visits that end with her body soaked in cold blood. Suddenly, Wren’s not safe in her home, with her friends, even with the police. With a doomsday clock ticking, Wren’s forced to grapple with how to best live the last days of her life. Does she hide and cower? Or stand and fight? What does fighting even look like when the killer is still just a shadow? A disturbing text message from an unknown number? A lingering bite mark? Or bloodstained thighs?
Tamayo never shies away from the raw and visceral side of lust: sexual assault. It haunts every page of the novel, forcing a usually secretive, whispered evil into a harsh, unforgiving spotlight. I appreciate the unflinching honesty Tamayo employs when describing the unique and intimate violation of rape. Horror is often too eager to gluttonously detail the stabbings and gunshots, the possessions and curses, and even the flaying of skin and breaking of bones. But rape remains shrouded in insinuations and veiled glances, untouchable even by those who claim a mastery of horror. Instead of hiding Wren’s sexual assaults behind allusions to dead flowers and ruined chastity, Tamayo addresses it on page two without ever suggesting Wren is ruined. Rape is shamed, not Wren.
Lust is, perhaps, the most uncomfortable deadly sin because it is the most horrific.
However, Wren’s emotional reaction is inconsistent throughout the novel. I struggle to convey this thought without policing a woman’s response to trauma, but there are moments where the seriousness of her suffering takes an inappropriate backseat to a budding relationship. The focus on this romance feels unnatural. It’s clear these moments were meant to convey lust, not dreams of happily-ever-after, but the leading man, Doug, is so darn enchanting, the double meaning is a bit lost. The moments Wren spends with Doug feel pasted from a romance novel and, therefore, slightly out-of-place. It makes reimmersion in the overarching tragedy unnatural and forces these monologues where Wren must tell us how she feels because her amorous, carefree actions aren’t really showing us.
Yet it’s impossible not to root for Wren. She’s up against an untraceable killer, navigating a lazy and often incompetent police force, and struggling to put her life back together while balancing a need to enjoy her last moments. Wren might only have three weeks before a killer slits her throat. What even is the acceptable emotional state for such a paradox?
Thankfully, Tamayo gives Wren an eccentric support system to carry her through the worst moments. Her soon-to-be ex-husband, Ricky, her unfairly attractive boss, Doug, her party girl coworker, Lily, and her P.O. turned best friend, Alex, circle the wagons around Wren in a desperate attempt the shield her from what’s coming. These characters deepen throughout the novel, their motives and secrets drippingly revealed as Wren begins to doubt those closest to her. What if the killer targets them next?
What if the killer’s lust for her bloodied corpse is closer than she ever imagined?
You should read this book if: you’re a fan of midnight thrillers, fast-paced action, and not afraid of some blood. Okay, a lot of blood. There are literally buckets of blood in this novel. Mixing sex and violence, Carnal Knowledge will keep you turning the pages desperate for release from the depraved clutches of a lustful killer. Order it here.
Reader’s Warning: Carnal Knowledge, include topics and graphic descriptions of rape, sexual assault, women’s health, sexual dysphoria, murder, violence, stalking, and infidelity.
*I received an ARC from the author for an unbiased review.*