The Fiction Fox
Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence - Caitlin Starling
Published: Titan Books, October 2022, (original: St. Martin's Press, October 2021)
My Rating: 1/5 stars
“I can think of little else,” he said, finally taking the ring from her and gently, so gently, slipping it onto her finger. “After just a few days, I find I’ve completely lost my mind over you.”
For the second time, I’ve been deeply intrigued by one of Caitlin Starlings plots, only to be deeply disappointed by the execution in the end. I’m sorry to say, but I think this author and I just don’t match well…
In The Death of Jane Lawrence, Starling switches out the space-setting of The Luminous Dead for another horror-staple, in the form of a gothic manor, brimming with secrets, blood and occult magic. We follow practical, level-headed Jane who enters into a marriage of convenience with renowned but reclusive surgeon Augustine Lawrence. Their marriage is sealed with the single condition that Jane must never visit Augustine’s crumbling family manor on the outskirts of town. When on their rainy wedding night, an accident leaves them both stranded on the doorstep of Lindridge Hall, Jane is confronted with a dark mystery and a side of her new husband she didn’t anticipate.
What I liked:
Say what you will about Starlings stories; they know how to make an entrance. We first meet our protagonists Jane and Augustine being forced to work together in his surgery when a patient is unexpectedly wheeled in for an emergency procedure. Lacking an operation assistant, Augustine asks Jane to assist him in his attempt to save this unidentified man’s life. What follows is a genuinely tense scene in which the two perform a desperate surgery to remove a strange calcified object from the man’s abdomen. It makes for a wonderful set-up to the first of many mysteries, with a great dynamic between the two main characters sizing each other up in a high-pressure situation. After this scene, I was genuinely excited to get to the rest of the story; convinced I was in for a tense and gripping ride.
What I didn’t like:
Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there fast. And I mean that fast part literally. Jane, who is described throughout the story as level-headed, independent and rational above all else, falls head-over-heels for the dashing doctor in one of the worst cases of insta-love I’ve encountered recently. It’s one of my biggest pet-peeves when a character that is described to be one thing (especially a feminist, independent bad-ass), suddenly flips like a leave as soon as a love-interest is involved. Relationship- and character development are essential to my enjoyment of a story, and similarly to The Luminous Dead, I found that severely lacking here. Both Jane and Augustine felt incredibly juvenile and immature for their age, which I can overlook in a book targeted at a young-adult audience, but not in a book marketed as adult gothic-horror.
Additionally, the story itself became as unbalanced as the characters; trying to incorporate too many interesting ideas into what ultimately became a bit of a Frankensteinian patchwork of underdeveloped plot points and twists. The intention of creating a series mind-bending twists along the way, one following quickly after the other, were clear, yet the relentless hurry made it so none of them were developed enough to hold up to scrutiny. The entirety of the story takes place over a period of only two weeks, which feels ridiculous for the amount of progression forced into the story as well as the characters. A slower paced story with more time for development would’ve been more fitting of the gothic-genre, but also made for a better story in general.
Overall, The Death of Jane Lawrence made for one of my biggest disappointments of the years thus far; starting off with a very strong hook, but sinking like a stone.
Many thanks to the publisher Titan Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.