Let Me Die, by Virginia Babcock [Review]

Where Frankenstein meets Christine, The Killer Car in a disturbing gothic romance.

In this original but disturbing gothic romance, Frankenstein meets Christine, The Killer Car and a young woman must choose between her father, her virtue, and the man she loves, but cannot touch. It’s not for everyone, but if your taste runs toward steamy romance mixed with gothic horror and technological sci-fi, this may be your cup of hot, spiced tea.

The story begins with a brilliant and original sci-fi/horror premise. Suppose that Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson continued his predecessor’s experiments into reanimation and extended it to cloning and the preservation of brain functions into a computer hard drive in the 1980s. Now, suppose this mad scientist was affiliated with an Eastern European organized crime syndicate. Now, meet Petre, the loyal goon who drives the small bus the criminals use to smuggle contraband from the professor’s mountain castle enclave. Petre is unfortunately shot and killed, but the professor preserves his brain functions and dumps his personality into . . . the bus. Now we have a combination of Christine, The Killer Car and Knight Rider. Petre inhabits and controls the bus, waiting for the professor to find a new body into which his consciousness can be transferred. Except, the professor dies in a car wreck, leaving poor Petre stuck in the bus.

Now, jump forward several decades. Petre’s bus has been languishing in disrepair, but then is acquired by an American mechanic in Romania who has a pretty post-teen daughter who loves vintage vehicles. Nicoleta discovers the existence of Petre’s mind inhabiting her refurbished bus. Petre misses having a body, and misses women. Nicoleta is smitten and falls (somehow) in love with Petre. Although Petre only wants to be put out of his eternal imprisonment in the bus (he wants to die), Nicoleta can’t bear to part with him, and he with her. It’s a love story like Beauty and the Beast. The set-up is wonderful, if a bit lengthy. Then, the second half of the book takes us through the introduction of a new villain, the grandson of the original professor, and the frightening events that put Nicoleta and Petre in mortal peril. It’s a very original story with twists you will not see coming.

At times, the twists are disturbing and difficult to read, as well as being disconnected from anything that came before in the story. Scenes of sexual abuse/rape and explicit (romantic) sex scenes and discussions make this very much NOT a YA story, despite the female protagonist being in the 18-21 year old range. The first half of the book reads much like a YA story, until a very out-of-the-blue discussion of Nicoleta masturbating in the bus with Petre’s encouragement. Most of what follows is equally unexpected and unusual as the book turns from YA feel-good sci-fi to serious gothic romance. Good to have twists, but often the motivation of the characters and the logic of the plot development is puzzling.

The author chooses to write the story from Petre’s and Nicoleta’s first person perspective most of the time, but flips back and forth between present and past tense, which results in some choppy writing. There are long stretches of exposition about what’s happening that often seem like substitutes for writing actual scenes, but the story’s breadth requires some fast jumps to avoid it bloating into many more pages. I almost wish the first half of the story were a separate book, fleshed out more fully, and the second half was a totally different volume. But, what we have is certainly interesting and thought-provoking. Ms. Babcock has written a story many readers will find fascinating. Be warned about the sex, rape, violence, and unusual plotting, but if you like that type of unique and original story, by all means hop on the bus!

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