Unraveling

A Novel

About the Book

The search for a notorious serial killer takes a therapist on a nightmarish quest to an alternate world to find the sinister secret behind his crimes, in a dark fantasy inspired by Caribbean urban myth, from the award-winning author of The Blue, Beautiful World.

“The natural heiress to Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin.”—Financial Times


Dr. Miranda Ecuovo works as a forensic therapist, helping traumatized witnesses recover their memories so that they can testify about the crimes they observed. Her most famous case resulted in the conviction of the serial killer Walther Gray, a pathologist’s assistant known as the Butcher of the City.

One day Miranda is seized by Chance, one of the spirits known as the Undying, and transported to a fantastical dreamlike world. There she is greeted by an Angel and presented with an unusual mission: Help catch the rogue Undying who was the true mastermind behind the Butcher’s crimes.

Now Miranda and Chance must stop the murderer before he kills again. Together they will race through a surreal otherworld of magical labyrinths and wondrous spirits—but also into the maze of Miranda’s own memories when they retrace her original investigation.

As Miranda draws closer to the truth, she finds herself confronted by even bigger questions than the killer’s identity. How could his victims’ deaths be forgotten so easily? And what can she do to create a world where the vulnerable can be safe and have their lives treated as precious?
Read more
Close

Praise for Unraveling

“The natural heiress to Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin.”Financial Times

“Karen Lord’s new novel, Unraveling, mixes up a witches’ brew of folklore, archetype, and social critique and serves it in a mug of serial-killer whodunit.”Los Angeles Review of Books
Read more
Close
Close
Excerpt

Unraveling

Chapter One

A chorus of tree frogs trilled in the damp, velvet darkness, wide awake and relentless as they spoke their authority over the nocturnal world. The village of Makendha slowly marked the hours to midnight with a quieting of laughter and argument, a dimming and darkening, and a staccato punctuation of ending sounds—­the shutting of doors, the dropping of shoes, and the weighty hush of a house empty of talk but filled with dreaming.

One house kept vigil with a single glowing window. Behind the curtains of pale ivory gauze, gilded by the light of an oil lamp, an age-­old scene was unfolding: a mother of the village sitting at the kitchen table, interrogating her adult son about his life, his loves, and his future. Because the mother was Paama, a woman known for quiet strength and infinite patience, the conversation was calm and loving rather than sharp and resentful. Because the son was Yao, also known as Chance, one of the undying who had become human more by accident than design, questions that involved love and the future were difficult to answer. Such is the lot of mortals who birth myth and legend in the midst of the mundane.

“At last you come to visit your old mother.” Strong, patient, but not at all above a little emotional manipulation.

Chance, occasionally called Yao, smiled fondly. “I have been busy. You know that, Maa.”

“Your trickster brother is the wanderer, not you. Why so vague about what you are doing? Who is she, this woman that you are working for?”

“I don’t keep secrets from you, Maa; you know that. But sometimes things are simply incomplete.”

She studied him in the lamplight. “I will try to understand. I know you have always been unique.”

“Unique? You had two of us,” Chance reminded her teasingly. “Two undying ones turned human for the privilege of being your sons.”

Paama shook her head. “Silly boy. I would have to be very old and dotish to forget what your brother is, but you . . . you are something beyond even him.”

A mother always knows her child. Chance did not dwell on those times when he had been a capricious otherworldly creature rather than a dutiful human son. And yet . . . there were days when he remembered as vividly as nightmare the moment when Patience, his elder and superior and as much a mother as an undying one could be, took him and unraveled his essence, all but unmaking him to make him human. Growing up Paama’s son had been a long, slow awakening from near oblivion to deep self-­knowledge. With Paama as his mother and the Trickster as his brother, mortal life was not hard—­it was even sweet. And yet it felt like it wasn’t enough.

Sometimes things are incomplete.

The beginning of one person’s tale may be for another a middle . . . or an end.

All these finished and unfinished tales, with neither krik nor krak to bookend them, make a story and, more than a story, a history.

Paama took up the teapot, poured for herself, and offered with a gesture to refresh his half-­full, cooling cup. He answered with a shake of the head and his hand over the rim. “I must stay awake. I have somewhere to be later tonight.”

“Vague again,” his mother chided. “Don’t act as if I don’t know you. Give me something. A name.”

Chance pondered. He knew that his mother worried about him, perhaps even more than she worried about his brother, although she would never say so. She had the same concerns as other ordinary parents. Was he happy? Was he prospering? Was there someone to take care of him when she was gone?

“A name?” he mused. “Very well. Her name is Miranda.”

It was three in the afternoon at the Crossing Bar, a watering hole famed for its proximity to the Courts of Justice, and Miranda Ecouvo was discovering, to her deep dismay, that the day was not improving.

“Murder by numbers,” said Khabir Lucknor, her boss.

“Playing doctor,” countered Fernando Cavel, her colleague.

“Reverse hangman,” Khabir riposted cheerfully.

They looked at her with anticipation, waiting for her to add to the game. She gave a blank stare in reply and drained her drink. Bad enough to be depressed without dealing with their dubious, macabre humor as well.

“Well,” said Fernando, huffing the word out on a big breath to break the tense silence. “We all have our ways of dealing with the stress. Bartender? Another one of these right here.” He leaned over, his body one long, skinny curve sheltering a neat arrangement of empty shot glasses, and waved a finger to get the man’s attention.

“Smoke?” Khabir said hopefully, but Miranda stayed silent. “Another drink?” He was the opposite of Fernando—­not fat, but slightly rounded with affluence. He had no favorite drink but kept to a varied range of mood-­altering chemicals, used in moderation. He was the consummate professional. In time Fernando would match up to him.

“No,” she said at last. “I should go.”

Four hundred meters of twisting alleys and uneven cobblestones led from the Courts of Justice to that convenient drinking stop. Eight hundred and forty of straight avenue, broad sidewalks, and level flagstones went from there to Lucknor & Associates. It was an easy route for most. City professionals of a certain age learned how to be drunk at four in the afternoon and not look it. Miranda still lacked that skill, so she kept her head down and her steps brisk, hoping that would carry her the distance without mishap. She got safely to the main door of Lucknor & Associates, safely inside, and safely, if not steadily, up the curving stairs. Her steps slowed, but she kept her face stern and made it past the receptionist with only a nod. Once inside her office, she stumbled slightly while trying to reach for her chair but managed to sit with dignified grace. She took off her shoes, put her feet on her desk, and drank two cups of sweet lemongrass tea from her flask. Near her heels, near enough for her to kick if she merely straightened a knee, her briefcase lay where she had thrown it. She looked at it with increasing disgust as sobriety slowly returned.

She picked up the phone, dialed, and waited.

“Hello, Miranda. It’s a little busy here.” The words were rushed, distracted. In the background, a recorded voice spoke in a charming professional lilt. “Like many ancient walled settlements on the continental coast, the City has a history that dates back to—­”

“I wish I were an ancient walled settlement,” Miranda said. “All that bombardment and danger in the past, nothing but serene meditation in the present, and only a little crumbling at the edges to look forward to in the future.”

“Are you drunk?” the live voice asked in a low, suspicious murmur, clearly trying not to be overheard.

“I have been drinking with Fernando and Khabir,” Miranda replied with dignified precision. “The case is over.”

There was a pause during which Miranda thought she could hear the sound of a long, sympathetic exhalation.

“I’ll get home early, put some soup on.”

“Thanks, Kieran,” Miranda said, trying not to weep at the expected kindness. She swallowed and hung up quickly. Three quick breaths, and she had the composure for another call, this one internal.

“Lucknor here.” His speech remained unslurred, but then again, he had the experience.

“Khabir?”

“Yes, m’dear?”

“I’m going home.” On another day she would have asked.

“Yes,” Khabir replied simply. “I believe I am too.”

“Call Fernando’s wife. He’s still drinking at the bar. He shouldn’t drive.”

“I’ll take him home.” That was fine. Khabir had a chauffeur, befitting his station as head of the firm.

When the call ended, she sat for a while, gazing blank-­faced at the briefcase. She muttered:

All roads lead to the city at sunrise.
All roads lead from the city at sunset.
And I, who live in the heart of the city,
must suffer teeming days and lonely nights,
surfeited and starved on humanity.

It was terrible how tired she was, how much in need of a good bawling cry she was. And there was still the report to write. She dragged herself up and gathered herself for the day’s last bit of professional pretense: the walk home.

About the Author

Karen Lord
Barbadian writer Dr. Karen Lord is the author of Redemption in Indigo, which won the William L. Crawford Award and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Her other works include the science fiction novels The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game, and the crime-fantasy novel Unraveling. She edited the anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean. More by Karen Lord
Decorative Carat