Wednesday, February 13, 2019


HOT TO KILL by Linda Coles (Blue Banana, 2017)

Reviewed by Jeannie McLean

She’s literally getting away with murder… 

Madeline Simpson is hot, sticky, and stressed to the max. She’s had it up to here with people treating her like dirt, and the hot flashes certainly aren’t helping. When her temper causes her to accidentally murder her landscaper, she expects to live out the rest of her menopause in prison. But the police have their hands full with a series of sexual assaults… 

Feeling above the law, Madeline aims to teach her biggest offenders a lesson. While her pranks take a dark and dangerous turn, Madeline begins to suspect the true identity of the serial sex offender. 

To catch the culprit, Madeline will have to go it alone… or risk unburying her deadly secrets. 

It’s recognised that a small number of women suffer psychosis aggravated or triggered by hormonal changes they experience in middle-age; not just the common hot flushes, irritability and impatience but instant, full-blown, ferocious rages. Cue Madeline Simpson who outwardly has led a blameless life until the summer heat wave occurs at the same time she is peri-menopausal. Then, she becomes very dangerous to cross.

The novel opens with Madeline losing patience with other drivers and slow-moving shoppers. She relieves the stress by reacting in a mean-spirited manner - temperature tantrums, Madeline calls them. Already in a bad mood, there soon follows a disagreement with her landscaper. But rather than this lethal turn of events teaching her to control her rages, she continues on exacting revenge on those who dare to annoy her. The plot flows from one unfortunate event to another (one -too-many scenes involving cars) that trigger Madeline’s rage; her reactions anywhere on the continuum from snide and spiteful to malicious and murderous.

I found Madeline hard to like or even empathise with. She comes across as an unpleasant person to begin with and the hormonal changes only exacerbate her mean-streak. Madeline admits she could have gladly killed Ruth, the teenager who turns up at fifteen, the product of her husband’s one-night stand. But she admits, that after the initial trauma of coping with a bolshie teenager, she and Ruth are developing a closer, if not close, relationship. Madeline meets her best friend Rebecca each week, to live vicariously through the stories of Rebecca’s casual and sexually active lifestyle. Madeline isn’t sure whether to despair or be jealous. And Madeline’s relationship with her husband seems to be one of mutual indifference.

However, Coles does allow Madeline to redeem herself in some way. A subplot running through the narrative is the police investigation into a spate of sexual attacks in the area. More by accident, as a consequence of yet another of Madeline’s over reactions, she realises she knows the identity of the person responsible for the attacks and foolishly but bravely, she decides to follow her hunch.

I had far more time for the secondary characters of Ruth and Detective Amanda Lacey (HOT TO KILL is the second in the Detective Lacey series, so I will be back tracking and read the first). Lacey is one of the officers involved in searching for the sexual attacker while also investigating what has happened to the missing landscaper.

The ending, at which point, Madeline’s earlier words, “Retribution should be swift and hard and far outweigh the original crime,” become truly significant, is a very neat bringing together of the several plot strands and inter-connections among characters in a surprisingly satisfying ending.

The humour is black with some very recognisable chuckle moments for readers who have or are suffering from similar menopausal symptoms. And in spite of my dislike of Madeline (which may well be the author’s point), I found it refreshing to read a crime novel with a middle-aged female protagonist, one that deals with menopause, not common as a major theme, and it was somewhat gratifying that a number of not-very-nice men get their comeuppance.

Jeannie McLean is a writer and an avid reader of crime fiction. She had the pleasure of meeting the author at Rotorua Noir in January.

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