zondag 3 april 2016

"The Bad Seed" by William March

"Later that summer, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep that she knew there was no way out, (...) it seemed to her that June seventh, the day of the Fern Grammar School picnic, was the day of her last happiness (...)"

Rhoda Penmark is everything a parent could wish for in a child. At eight years old, she's pretty, clever and extremely polite. But only close relatives could fail to see there's something mysterious about the girl. Bad things seem to happen when she's around. What about the puppy she got as a present and got bored of? How did it come to fall out of the apartment window? And the kind, elderly neighbour, who promised Rhoda could have her necklace after her death, and who has a fatal accident while Rhoda is visiting her? And Rhoda's classmate Claude, who mysteriously drowns after winning a writing competition that Rhoda desperately wanted to win? Slowly, Rhoda's mother Christine is starting to realize there's something terribly wrong with her daughter. Under the guise of writing a crime novel, Christine starts investigating the psyche of serial killers.

'The evil child' is a theme that is quite common in thrillers nowadays, but remember, this book was written in the early fifties, so it was quite a sensation at the time. The main question that is asked, is whether 'evil' character traits are inherited or learned. The title kind of gives away March's stand in this - probably not a modern point of view. "The Bad Seed" is still very readable today, although maybe a bit slow compared to most modern-day thrillers. But March manages to convey all the conflicting feelings of the main characters quite well, which makes it a compelling read. It's still creepy and it has a shocking conclusion. Rhoda Penmark is a character you're unlikely to ever forget.

Author: William March
Title: The Bad Seed
Publisher: Vintage, New York
Year: 2015 (orig. 1954)
Number of pages: 205 p.
ISBN: 9781101872659

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