Reviewed by Jim Lyon
Many of us have pivotal moments in our lives, but rarely are they as profoundly life-changing as the one Jolene experienced. When she was six years-old Jolene killed a girl that was annoying her, and she enjoyed doing it. To compound the impact on the mind of this budding sociopath, she got away with it. After all, who would ever suspect a six year-old of murder?
Lourdes Bernabe’s novel All of Her Men focuses on Jolene twenty years later when she’s leading a double life in which her “normal life” includes a secure job with the IRS and a relationship with a patient and understanding boyfriend who puts up with her bossy nature and disquieting mood swings; her not so normal life involves frequent sorties into the night to find prey in order to feed her nearly incessant desire to kill.
For the most part this story is told from Jolene’s perspective as she wrestles with the demons that drive her violent activities. Early in the story, after a recent kill Jolene’s life is turned upside down when she learns of secret admirers of her murderous exploits. She is invited to meet and hang out with the members of an informal serial killer club, all of whom are male, who look upon her as the queen of their realm.
Being a hard core loner, Jolene isn’t particularly keen on socializing with her fellow psychopaths. And besides, she is looking for a way to conquer the evil within her. She doesn’t want to engage in activities likely to perpetuate it.
While out prowling for a new victim, serendipity comes into play, she makes the acquaintance of a somewhat edgy psychiatrist. She begins to cultivate a friendship with him in hopes that he can make her whole, or at least more able to control her urges.
It would appear that she has a lot of work to do in that regard, though. Indeed, after a female friend orchestrates a scenario in which they engage in Sapphic sex while manipulating two erstwhile male suitors into performing homosexual acts with one another, Jolene experiences a deadly relapse with her anger management problem.
Apparently, where this thread leads and how or if any of Jolene’s issues will be resolved is to be revealed in a sequel or sequels. This book ends with Jolene discovering that her ne’er-do-well brother has been found dead, his body unceremoniously deposited in a dumpster. It would be safe to assume that more roadblocks likely are ahead for Jolene’s mental health improvement plan as she processes this development in her life.
As Jolene tells her story she reveals a hint of Dexter in her personality, although by no means does she direct her dark passenger toward eliminating bottom feeders from society like he does. But like him she is cool, calculating and dispassionate as she plans and executes her missions. She also has his macabre sense of humor regarding her victims being clueless about what her intentions are.
All of Her Men is a well-written and original book that has the potential to find a broad audience. Although Jolene does heinous things to unsuspecting men (mostly), she is drawn such that readers can sympathize with her dilemma and hope that she really does find a way to be cured despite her actions clearly indicating the unlikelihood of that happening. As much as I generally dislike serialized books, I look forward to the follow-up to this one; I want to read more about Jolene’s tortured journey and diabolical exploits.