“Temper” by Layne Fargo

Genre: Mystery & ThrillersTemper
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pub. Date: July 2, 2019

In this book, the theater is written as a bloody place on and off the stage, though I’m not sure why it is marketed as a mystery and thriller. It is more of a psychological drama. Think of a less kinky “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or a not as well written version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” In a Chicago community theater, you will meet Malcolm. He is one of the theater’s co-founders, director and always one of the play’s main characters. Fargo does a good job of portraying Malcolm as a darkly charismatic creep. He has a reputation of being a merciless director doing whatever it takes for his fellow actors to give the performance he wants from them. Then there is Kira. She is the actress who finally lands the role of a lifetime in a two-person play. Guess who is her director as well as her costar?

Do you know what the term knap means in the theater? I didn’t until this novel. During a slap scene, one of the actors whacks a part of their body so the audience hears the sound of skin hitting skin. The purpose is so that no actor actually gets hurt—except when one is working with Malcolm. Kira is supposed to pretend to slap him in the face and do the knap on her bare thigh, which is not in the audience’s view. He makes her rehearse the scene for hours in a row. So she, herself, black and blues her thigh. One of her ex-boyfriends sees the massive purple bruise and angrily asks, “Did he do this?” The author is clever here. What can she say, “no, I did it to myself.” Of course not, she would sound like a fool. So instead of answering, she changes the topic by seducing him. Fargo gives Malcolm many other nasty tricks up his sleeve. He invites another of Kira’s ex-boyfriends to the opening-night rehearsal without filling her in. The purpose is to bring out her old rage at the man so she can use it in the play. No “red room,” but still lots of punishment.

If those two weren’t enough to keep the reader busy, Fargo adds in the character of Joanna. She is the other co-founder of the theater, its manager and Malcolm’s roommate. She is also his enabler. Joanna has always wanted his sole attention and views the actress as a threat. Did I mention that for over a decade she has sexually longed for him? They sleep in the same bed but do not have sex. Did I mention that the sexual tension between Malcolm and Kira is through the roof: Nothing happening between them either. Though Kira does have sex with her bi-sexual male roommate, and Joanna does have sex with another woman, and Malcolm is having sex with every other woman in the Chicago but those two —“Payton Place” 2019.

Clearly, Malcolm is the bad boy and these two women bend to his wishes. I’m guessing there are no “pink hats” in either Kira’s or Joanna’s wardrobe. This doesn’t really fly in today’s MeToo times but it does make for a decent psychological suspense story. “Temper,” is the kind of book you read just to be entertained. No real thinking required.  There are better ones out there. Still, I did appreciate Fargo’s surgeon-like precision with her characters. I bet if I read this one in the summer on a beach I may have enjoyed it more. If you are looking for a quick read with lots of twists, then I recommend Fargo’s debut novel.

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