The point of view of a story can be the absolute greatest detail when determining how well it is told. Blood Sugar by Daniel Kraus has this element in spades. Indeed, rather than giving us merely one point of view, there are at least three given to the reader. Furthermore, the points of view given are anything but what one might expect. In addition, the actual plot focuses cleverly on a type of crime that many people fear, one that has appeared in the headlines and has drifted into general consciousness.
Blood Sugar centers around a group of younger people, the oldest being a failed young man in his late teens or twenties; another is considerably younger. One of the three is well educated and a girl, whereas the other two are boys or men respectively. Another of the three is a young man of color, who specifically has fantasies his father is secretly Barack Obama, whereas the other two are white. It is a fascinating combination, giving the text three relatively diverse characters with startlingly different backgrounds and points of view. Each is distinct, and within a paragraph, often within a few words, the reader can tell who is speaking.
These three people find themselves spending a great deal of time together, and the older one has come up with some very strange ideas. These include everything from playing with tarantulas to bizarre drug milkshakes. Eventually he decides, with the help of his younger friends, to get revenge on the town he feels has wronged him by polluting Halloween candy with dangerous substances and objects. It’s a horrifying idea that hits a special place in the fears of anyone with a child.
Structurally, the whole story works because we rotate between the points of view of these three characters, revealing their different levels of education and understanding as well as their different views on the world. One of them is barely coherent, another damaged, bitter and broken, and the third seemingly relatively well educated and seemingly innocent. Each of the three points of view was impressive in its own right, and the reader also is able to experience each character through another’s point of view, briefly or at length.
There is a surprising amount of development in twist in an extremely straightforward plot, again largely possible due to the very specific way this story is told. Each character is slowly developed through his or her narrative, and the reader reaches certain expectations only to have further developments turn in fascinating ways.
The chief theme in the story is the movement against expectations. The narrative structure lends itself to this, as do the many concerns each character reveals. The intelligent girl is afraid of expectations from her family and wants to separate from them, the failed adult finds his expectations for his life destroyed after a promising youth, and the youth’s expectations about his day to day life are low and confused, resulting in his going along with the plot.
This book features a very nice cover by Paul Man, which successfully illustrates much of the concept of the story, and also evokes the pin-ups of pulp crime novels. It is a very effective cover, although nothing in the image in the October calendar on the cover becomes relevant during the tale.
Blood Sugar is quite a good little crime story, and a very nice example of psychological horror. There are characters one wouldn’t expect, twists and turns in both narrative and development, and very clever stylistic developments. This is a very clever but extremely dark story, very well told and easy to recommend for a good quick read.
(Hard Case Crime, 2019)