Author Douglas Kennedy is an artist. Like a painter who uses brush strokes to flesh out a person’s individuality on canvas, author Kennedy uses skillful dialogue. A reader cannot help but learn about a person’s character merely by the amount of dialogue in his latest novel, The Woman in the Fifth. In my mind, this is skillful writing, not mere story-telling.
Sucked down the societal drainpipe from a scandal in his American hometown where he had been a dignified professor, Harry Ricks empties into the dregs of the Parisian scene. Is such a sewer place possible? Well, in The Woman in the Fifth it is. With only the money he’s succored from a bank account where he left at least half to his beloved daughter, Harry rents a gutter-like room in Paris’ noir element.
Suffocating in self pity, meaninglessness, and hopelessness, Harry merely tries to pass away his life in bars, salons, and movie theaters, convincing himself he is writing a good salable novel. Realizing his bank account will run out, Harry begins working for a shady man who pays him daily to sit through the night in a second floor “office” to buzz in undesirables into the vault-like room below him. Harry knows something illicit is going on but is afraid to get involved even after he hears horrific agonized shrieks through the floor — so badly does he need money.
At a strange salon, Harry meets and then falls in love with an odd woman who likes his body and sexual prowess, but she can only see him at definite times on certain days of the week. This lovely but bizarre woman spills out her guts to Harry. She reveals that she lost both her husband and daughter in an automobile accident. Harry has lost his wife and daughter in a somewhat contrived, unfair scandal.
After patrons leave her tavern, a barmaid locks the tavern door, and in my mind, she forces Harry to rape her. All the while, this lurid lust-filled woman knows her jealous husband will murder Harry when he learns of their frenzied copulation. Well, of course he finds out! He is on the rampage to knife off Harry’s testicles and to slit his throat as well.