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by Vicki Hendricks

Serpent's tail, 2000 (HC) 215 pages $23.00
ISBN: 1-852-42666-7

Reviewed by Victor Gischler

Sexy, gritty and raw, yet at the same time intelligent and touching, VOLUNTARY MADNESS proves Vicki Hendricks is the queen of noir. The novel is the story of young Juliette and her relationships with the characters around her - especially her drunken, would-be novelist boyfriend Punch. Their plan is to defy the futility of the world by "living wild" in Key West, Florida for a year until their money runs out at which time they will unite in a spectacular, public double suicide.

This is a hardboiled book, with vivid, tough prose and crime elements that build as the tale progresses, but the genius of the story is the novel's struggle to differentiate between art and life, and the conflict inherent when these terms become mutually exclusive. As their names suggest, Punch and Juliette represent a clash of art (and the expectations of that art). They are half the story of Romeo and Juliette, and half Punch & Judy show.

As already implied, the crime elements of this novel are introduced slowly, the early chapters developing the characters and their quirks, their motivations and desires. But when Punch and Juliette go off on a Bonnie and Clyde style crime spree, events are forced to a dramatic conclusion.

VOLUNTARY MADNESSis a quick and frank read with the ability to cull weak readers from the literary herd. But it's also an intelligent work about art and living -- not always the same thing.

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