STARRED REVIEW
February 2011

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

By Elizabeth Stuckey-French
A radioactive cocktail brings on 50-year hangover.
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There’s a killer stalking the streets of suburban Tallahassee. She’s exacting her revenge for a 50-year-old injustice with cool, calculated steps—well, more like a shuffle. It is only a matter of time before Dr. Wilson Spriggs will die at the hands of his killer, be it via a gleeful stabbing or a poisonous pineapple upside-down cake.

The killer is Marylou Ahearn, a batty 77-year-old retired teacher from Memphis. Dr. Spriggs gave pregnant Marylou a radioactive cocktail in 1953 during a secret government study, which ultimately led to the death of her daughter. Now she takes her Welsh corgi Buster for a few walks each day to scope out Spriggs’ home and pumps herself up with self-motivations of “Today’s the day. Today’s the day. Today’s the day he’ll suffer and die.”

However, Marylou’s homicidal plans change slightly when she sees an opportunity to destroy Spriggs’ entire family. She introduces herself as Nancy Archer (the heroine from the 1958 movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) and pleasantly weasels herself into the family, who find her annoying but interesting enough to keep around. Mischief ensues, and it gets downright dirty. Were it not for Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s puckish voice, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady could have been a drama. Luckily for us, it’s not.

Much of the book’s whimsy comes from the varied perspectives of the nutty cast, not only Marylou but also Spriggs’ entire family: Spriggs himself—now afflicted with Alzheimer’s—his menopausal daughter Caroline, her cheating husband Vic, two kids with Asperger’s (one a science genius, the other Elvis-obsessed) and overachieving youngest daughter Suzi. They are a modern dysfunctional family, and the bumbling interactions between them and Marylou have dark—and darkly hilarious—effects.

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady is surprisingly chipper as the neurotic and lovable cast turns a macabre tale into a wildly compulsive read.

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The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

By Elizabeth Stuckey-French
Doubleday
ISBN 9780385510646

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