Bohemian Rhapsody By Maria Grazia Swan
Reviewed by Claire Matturro
From the opening paragraphs of Bohemian Rhapsody (Echo Canyon Press 2019) by Maria Grazia Swan, readers will know they are in the talented hands of a masterful storyteller. Graced with lyrical language, the novella is at once atmospheric with chilling hints of danger and betrayal. The foreshadowing is expertly done, and sets the stage for the unfolding tale of deception, betrayal, and mystery. And that’s just within the first page or so. Here’s an example of how Swan ably and sharply sets the hook right off the bat:
Queen’s lyrics spun in my head, over and over, useless as mother’s milk to an aborted child. …I fought the urge to floor the gas pedal, though the speed of the car on this barren road begged to be tested. … “Do not attract attention.” Pablo had warned me, forever and again.
The narrator, a woman unnamed except as “Little Orphan,” is traveling to a remote Arizona home of a woman known as La Bowie. There, she and someone nefarious, who is known only as Pablo, are apparently planning something sinister with the wealthy La Bowie as their target. Exactly what is going on is expertly hidden from the readers, though hints are doled out in skillful ways, until the climax. Swan proves herself to be an author who is well versed in the deft and clever handling of clues, narration, and dialogue. But that something ominous is afoot is clear from the foreshadowing and the tiny bits of information Swan dangles artfully throughout her novella.
Little Orphan’s back story, as an abused orphan in a Catholic home, is skillfully woven into the plot in an engaging way that does not intrude on the main story but rather enriches the plot. This grim childhood reinforces the dark, noir tone, and creates sympathy for the complex character of Little Orpha.
While Little Orphan commands center stage in the tale, an even more mysterious woman plays a vital, demanding role also. This other woman is wealthy, older, and beautiful. Little Orphan and the mysterious but malevolent Pablo met her at the Malpensa airport in Milan, and were immediately attracted to her as she apparently was to them. Like the Little Orphan, this woman has a distinctive feature—heterochromia iridis, or the David Bowie syndrome in which each eye is a different color, like Bowie’s eyes. And so, Pablo and the narrator “tagged our new friend ‘La Bowie.”
Soon after this meeting, Pablo promised she would be “the last one,” and he and the narrator join La Bowie at her home in Arizona. La Bowie’s source of wealth is a mystery, as is the woman herself. Yet as enigmatic as this character is and remains, Swan uses her talented author’s guiles to plant some significant clues, which in the smooth telling of the story don’t even seem like clues. For instance, La Bowie “often ran her fingers over her delicate throat, more a reflex than a conscious gesture. …Maybe she lost the necklace, not the habit.”
As Swan builds the plot, the tensions ratchet up exponentially as the story heads toward the shocking climax, an ending both surprising and yet somehow inevitable. Along the way, the story twists and turns, but always with the crisp, clear prose of Swan keeping the plot moving at a fast pace. Toward the end, the story pivots, with a sharp turn that adds even more tension to the tale. Little Orphan realizes that “I had been the huntress for so long, and suddenly, I felt the hunted—and all it took was a phone hang up? That, and a very large sum of money.”
Bohemian Rhapsody might be a novella, but it has the satisfying kick of a full-length novel. Expertly taut and thrilling, it’s a delicious romp in noir territory. And though Maria Grazia Swan is a new discovery for this reviewer, more of her books are already on the Kindle awaiting more reading.