A Matrix of Angels
by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 1988-90)
Creative Guy Publishing
Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96)
A Matrix of Angels is a literary thriller by Christopher Conlon, Bram Stoker Award winner and acclaimed author in the world of horror fiction. I abhor horror stories. But I actually didn’t realize I was reading one until gory scenes surfaced of a serial killer who tortured three teen-age girls in his basement, murdering them by drilling holes in their heads and leaving their remains in a river bed. Hence, the psycho’s label of “river-bed killer.”
I was lured into the story by Conlon’s vivid account of the intense friendship between two girls, Frances Pastun and Lucy Sparrow, respectively 12 and “almost 13”. Frances was sent away by drug addicted parents to live with an aunt and uncle, where she meets Lucy, who lives across the street. Lucy’s mother does her best to keep the girls supplied with pizza and affection, while turning tricks in the bedroom. The girls are opposites who irresistibly attract: Frances, a mousy studious girl in skirts and cardigans, Lucy an athletic, boisterous tomboy in blue jeans, who never studies. They are rejected and ridiculed by the school population, but find their own inner values in each other’s company.
I was astonished at Conlon’s ability to not only understand the mentality of two young girls, but to write dialogues that made me wonder if he had young sisters and/or daughters. The “stuffed up nose” when Lucy has a cold, Lucy’s disdain for Frances when Lucy crashes the bike they’re riding: “Aw crap, now you’re gonna be a crybaby. Great.” The shock of seeing a picture of a naked man. “Ew, gross!” Conlon’s writing style is intense, his dialogues are audible.
At the beginning of the book, Conlon introduces us to Frances Pastun as a grown woman whose life has gone awry. She is alcoholic, though a successful children’s book author/illustrator, a divorced mother of a young daughter who wants nothing to do with her. Frances also invites young strangers into her bed, who never spend the night with her.
While attending a book festival in Santa Barbara, Frances decides to go to Quiet, CA remembering her first real friend Lucy Sparrow, and how Lucy was horribly murdered, her body found in pieces in the river bed.
In a series of flash-backs, Frances recalls her childhood as she struggles with her present catastrophes. She is compelled to visit the scene of Lucy’s murder and to seek out her killer, the local guy at the gas station who called them “lovely ladies.” I won’t give away the final episode of Frances’ quest, or the impact it has on her as she tries to get on with her life.
Conlon explains that he originally wrote a short story with the same title and he was subsequently haunted by the voices of Frances and Lucy whispering to him that the work was not finished. The short story version is appended to the book. I personally did not feel the need to read another version of this intense story, but I must admire the fact that he was finally compelled to write a novel that quieted their voices.
Leita Kaldi Davis worked for the United Nations in New York and UNESCO in Paris, for international development programs at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University. She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of fifty-five, then went on to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002.