Publisher: Trapeze (Trade Paperback – 26 April 2022)
Length: 328 pages
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Outstanding screenwriter Sascha Rothchild presents her debut novel with the utterly addictive Blood Sugar, an awesome and clever thriller with a sweet twist.
Ruby Simon has been a killer since she was five years old. On a sunny day, young Ruby took an opportunity to rid herself and her sister of the school bully by helping him drown at the local Miami beach. After managing to get away with her crime, Ruby expected to feel guilty for the life she took, but instead all she felt was relief that the boy would never hurt her sister again. This action led to Ruby having a realisation that sometimes killing a terrible person is not necessarily a bad thing.
Twenty-five years later, Ruby appears to have it all. A successful and driven psychologist in Miami, Ruby has killed several times over the intervening years and has never felt guilt for her actions. However, everything she has built is about to come crumbling down when she finds herself in an interrogation room under suspicion of murder. In front of her lie four photographs of people who she once knew and who are all now dead.
As the interrogation continues, Ruby soon discovers a significant problem: of the four victims she is accused of murdering, she has only killed three of them, and it is the death she is not responsible for that the police are most determined to bring her down for. Can Ruby prove she is innocent of this one murder? And even if she can, does she even deserve to be set free?
This was an impressive and compelling debut from Sascha Rothchild that I was really quite happy to get a copy of. Not only did it have an awesome-sounding plot but I was also very intrigued by the author, as Rothchild already had some major writing creds after her work on several television shows, including GLOW, which I was a big fan of. I ended up really loving Blood Sugar and I swiftly got drawn into its witty, humorous and powerful story set around an unlikely and extremely likeable murderer.
Blood Sugar has a distinctive and fun narrative that really grabs your attention from the beginning, starting as it does with child-on-child murder. Told exclusively from the perspective of central character Ruby Simon, the book is an impressive, deep and occasionally humorous character study of a very unique fictional killer. The initial narrative is split between events in the character’s present, where she is being interrogated by the police, and an extended look back at her past, as you see all the major events in her life. These flashback sequences take up the majority of the first two thirds of the book, and they present some powerful and intriguing examinations of the protagonist and all the moments that led to her present. In particular, they look at her key relationships, her schooling, the events that made her into the successful person she is today, as well as the moments where she decided to take a life. These two separate narrative threads play off each other extremely well, with the character history providing some intriguing context to the character’s background and mindset, while the present-day interrogation does a good job at hinting at events that are still to be revealed in the flashbacks. Rothchild’s excellent writing style and ability to forge interesting and compelling characters are on full display during this part of the novel, and she is effortlessly able to construct a powerful and natural life story around the very relatable protagonist, with her occasional murders cleverly worked in. The blend of character history and justified killings really works well to keep your attention, while also making you really start to care about the protagonist and her future. Both separate linear threads bind together perfectly as the novel progresses and leads the reader towards Blood Sugar’s awesome third and final act.
The final third of Blood Sugar takes on a completely new format as the first-person examination of the protagonist’s past is wrapped up and the book turns into an intense legal thriller. This fantastic and powerful change of pace is quite jarring and sees the protagonist encounter all manner of personal setbacks and attacks as the police close in on her. Thanks to all the awesome work that the author did in the first part of the novel, the reader is now incredibly invested in Ruby’s life story, and you feel incredibly sympathetic for her. As such, it hurts a little to see her so terribly attacked, even though many of the things that they are accusing her of are true and a key part of her life. This final part of the novel is incredibly intense, and Rothchild brings out all manner of intriguing twists and turns to shake the reader, especially as you still a little uncertain about who is responsible for one of the key events. The author comes up with an intriguing and entertaining conclusion for the novel that really makes one of the supporting characters shine. I really liked how everything wrapped up here, and it really did the rest of the book justice. An overall impressive and highly addictive narrative that I powered through in very short order.
I deeply enjoyed some of the unique elements that Rothchild sprinkled throughout her novel. While there is a natural focus on the morality of murder and the mindset of her protagonist, the author also takes the time to examine other interesting elements in her own entertaining way. Many of these elements revolve around relationships, with the protagonist finding herself connected to multiple interesting people in a variety of complex ways, from a very close platonic friendship that experiences major highs and severe lows, to a loving relationship that tries to overcome mistrust and traumatic pasts. The author also presents one of the most honest and powerful examinations of the relationships people have with their pets, as the protagonist becomes extremely close with several animals that she adopts. While one of these ends quite tragically (I was legitimately heartbroken when this happened), it transitions into a very moving and accurate examination of the strong grief that people often feel for their pets, and it is one that every animal lover will understand and appreciate. The various relationships featured in Blood Sugar form a key part of the story, and it was fascinating to see them unfold around the protagonist, especially as they brought out some unique family dynamics, and I really appreciated the clever ways that the author worked them into the wider plot.
There is also an outstanding look at the media circus that surrounds big crimes, especially once the protagonist finds their previous crimes under investigation. Watching Ruby’s entire carefully constructed life come unravelled in the public eye is one of the more intense parts of Blood Sugar, and Rothchild pulls no punches when it comes to the savagery of the media and the isolation that accused people find themselves in. I also appreciated the intense dive into the world of the personal psychology, as the protagonist uses her training to explore her mind as well as issues surrounding several of her clients. This was a very intriguing part of the book’s plot, and I liked how Rothchild praised therapy, showing that it can be very beneficial to people, even trained psychologists and serial killers. However, the most impressive story element that Rothchild worked into the novel was the in-depth examination of diabetes and the impacts it can have. Due to a key plot point, quite a lot of the book revolves around a character’s diabetes, with their low blood sugar (yep, that is what the book is named after), become a major factor in the case against Ruby. Rothchild has clearly done her research when it comes to the intricacies of diabetes, and I really appreciated how she was able to imagine a potential murder based around this disease. All these distinctive elements and more are expertly utilised in the wider plot and become a key part of the protagonist’s unique and complex life.
Finally, I really must touch on Blood Sugar’s awesome protagonist of Ruby Simon, who stands out as one of the most original and surprisingly likeable literary characters of 2022. Ruby is a very distinctive figure; she first killed at a very young age and has gone on to murder again several times through her life. Even though she feels no guilt for these killings, Ruby is not portrayed as a psychopath or a serial killer; she is simply someone able to justify the actions she took in a very logical way. Due to the way that the novel is set out, you see most of Ruby’s life through her eyes and you swiftly come to appreciate her point of view, especially as she appears as a mostly normal person who finds herself in some unique situations. Each of her killings is laid out to the reader in a very logical and natural way, and you honestly have a hard time understanding and even supporting her reasons or justifications for the killings. Due to this, as well as the extremely relatable way that Rothchild portrays her, you become strongly connected to the character, and you quickly start rooting for her to avoid being capture or prosecuted for her crimes. I honestly cannot remember becoming as attached to a killer character as did with Ruby in Blood Sugar, and Rothchild really went out of her way to ensure that you liked her protagonist. An excellent and memorable bit of character work.
Overall, Blood Sugar was one of the more unique and entertaining releases of 2022 so far, and I was really impressed with Sascha Rothchild’s first novel. Featuring an extremely clever, hilarious, thrilling and addictive story, Blood Sugar was a very fun novel to dive into, especially once you become attached to the amazing main character. Powerful, intense and very distinctive, Blood Sugar is easily one of the best debut novels of 2022 and it comes very highly recommended by the Unseen Library.