A. Randall’s Beautiful Monster, Cadence Madison, is exactly as she’s described. A former government assassin who’s gone into retirement, taking on projects as she sees fit; a gorgeous woman who has a hard time fitting into society.
The obvious comparison to make is with Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, later turned into the hit TV show. Both talk of an uncontrollable desire to kill (Dexter’s ‘dark passenger’) from an early age and both try to kill only those who deserve it.
I arrive early and order a drink while noticing that the barista’s ponytail is long enough to strangle her with.
Dexter, however, does have a few advantages over Cadence. Firstly he has his police contacts to help him find and research his targets, while Cadence waits for people to ask for her help on Craigslist, and then seemingly does little to verify their claims of their evil doings.
Dexter too is incredibly careful about not leaving behind any evidence at the crime scene, while we’re introduced to Cadence as she kills a man in a public bathroom, seemingly with no care for cameras placing her at the scene or dropping DNA. This issue is picked up as someone — not the police — discovers her secret, but for a government-trained killer it seems a little hard to believe she’d be so careless.
Another side of Cadence’s struggle is her lack of understanding of society and normal ways of life. She seems obsessed with the Davis family next door and initially seems annoyed by Heather’s attempts to reach out and become friends. In an attempt to humanise Cadence, the author makes her quickly and deeply fall into a strong friendship with Heather.
Without this friendship, Cadence is hard to empathise with. A one-dimensional character, she was an almost unfeeling murderer who seemed to kill purely to sate her needs and with little else to her. While the friendship with Heather was needed, it seemed forced and unbelievable.
Although she prefers solitude, Cadence soon attracts the attention of Andrew Gideon — both as a beauty and a killer. Half of this interests Cadence, but preferring her new quiet life, she refuses his offer of employment. It’s this refusal that’s at the heart of the story.
While I have been harsh on the story, it’s clear that Randall has the potential to write very well. He maintains a consistent tone throughout the story, and he’s clever and error-free in his writing.
There are glimpses of brilliance, when he really gets into Cadence’s head and her killing thoughts punctuate the narrative:
“Where are we headed?” I ask, following the other women to the minivan in Heather’s driveway and trying not to think about the most efficient-
-order to kill them.
But otherwise his main character is too robotic. There are times too when he overdoes her need to kill, ending far too many paragraphs with an aside about how she wanted to cause harm to someone. It’s interesting at the start, but by the end it feels overdone.
As it stands, Beautiful Monster isn’t going to be his masterpiece, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see something stronger from Randall in the future.