Book Review: Once Upon a Murderous Delusion
Reviewed by Jadidsa Perez
A nefarious story that pushes the limits of mystery
Once Upon a Murderous Delusion by A.G. Russo sits neatly within the mystery-thriller genre, but it transcends expectations by generating plenty of readerly compassion while sending us through its twists and turns. From the dedication, “For all those who struggle,” to the open dialogue about mental illness, this book is refreshing, cutting-edge, and downright engaging.
The story resides in the peaceful town of Parkhirst in the 1980s. A serial killer is on the loose, known for assaulting and murdering young mothers and then writing “Bad Mommy” on the wall with the victim’s blood—an ominous M.O. that unsettles both police and residents alike. Many of them have their eyes on the mentally ill patients in the psychiatric unit of Parkhirst General Hospital.
The police are under extreme pressure to solve the case, so they make one of the patients, Steven, the leading suspect despite little evidence. But Nella, a new nurse at the Parkhirst hospital, strongly believes that Steven is innocent. She convinces a small cohort of her coworkers to aid her in finding the real killer, who may be closer than they believe.
Russo’s direct tone and ability to move the mysterious plot forward makes Once Upon a Murderous Delusion a dynamic read that goes by very quickly. The dialogue between the characters is frank and adds greatly to the story. There are a number of issues addressed in the book aside from the killings, such as the Vietnam war, gender inequality, stigmatization of mental illness, and immigration. Rather than one-dimensional, the book is layered with different aspects of the human condition in the 1980s.
Later parts of the novel are artfully foreshadowed in subtle and unexpected ways, making us go back and second guess our readerly intuition.
I am searching for a little more story cohesion though. There are a lot of characters introduced in a short amount of time, and as a result, it’s hard to grasp which characters are important and which are not. The novel’s characterization of its female characters also has me asking for a little bit more. A better balance of characters, description, and dialogue may have smoothed out the rougher edges of the story.
If you’re drawn to unique psychological thrillers, Once Upon a Murderous Delusion could be a good fit for you. It’s certainly no run-of-the-mill novel. Due to its pacing and can be a short, impactful read.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Psychological
Length: 262 pages
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