All the best decisions are made after hitting the bottle, right? Well, okay, that may not always be the case, but when Freya Miller, after consuming a few drinks too many, comes across a strange job advertisement that piques her interest, her decision to respond to the advertisement will irreversibly change her life forever. The advertisement specifically states that ‘applicants with an excessively curious and inquisitive nature are distinctly not welcome’, and in attempting to deter the inquisitive, the advertisement does the exact opposite.
Killing Adonis, from Brisbane-based author J. M. Donellan, is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read. Described by the author as a ‘tragicomic tale’, its mysterious plot and dark humour won me over almost immediately. I grew up in Brisbane and particularly enjoyed Donellan’s occasional references to iconic locations around the city—there’s something wondrous about pretending this suspenseful story actually happened in my hometown.
After responding to the advertisement, Freya is hired by the quirky and eccentric Vincetti family to care for their comatose son, Elijah. The explicit wording of the advertisement does not discourage Freya from digging into the secret world of the wealthy and powerful Evelyn and Harland Vincetti, whose corporate rivals have a peculiar proclivity towards being extravagantly executed.
Much of the satirical nature of Killing Adonis is linked to the Vincetti family, who are portrayed as uncompromising corporate monsters. Their beliefs and behaviours are Donellan’s way of highlighting the prevalence of corporate greed in modern society. It’s a satirical commentary and while Donellan sometimes handles these themes with the sort of subtlety one would use to drive a freight train, Killing Adonis never comes across as preachy. It’s sharp and funny in all the right ways, and exactly what a social critique should be.
Freya uncovers many secrets within the Vincetti mansion, but perhaps her greatest discovery is Elijah’s older brother, Jack, a sickly man who suffers from, among other ailments, chronic writer’s block. As the mysteries surrounding the Vincetti family continue to grow, Freya and Jack work together, unwillingly sometimes, to answer the increasing questions they have about the suspicious deaths of their rivals and about Elijah’s coma.
I feel like Killing Adonis is the book that Agatha Christie and Tim Burton would have written together if they’d ever met, and for me it was the perfect blend of mystery and the mysterious. The Vincetti’s are caricatures of people you’d never want to meet, but are increasingly dominant in a world geared towards helping the rich and powerful become richer and more powerful. Throw in a few mysteries to solve and a protagonist with a slight drinking problem, and you get one of the more imaginative novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading lately.