Exorcising the Ties That Bind
In her second #ownvoices thriller, THE BINDING ROOM, London criminal-defense attorney and award-winning author Nadine Matheson once again spotlights law enforcement’s misogyny and racial stereotyping—and this time mental illness is at the heart of the story.
Detective Inspector Angelica Henley knows what it’s like to be treated differently because she’s a Black woman in a white man’s job. She can’t count the number of times other law enforcement officers have asked her to prove her identity. Still trying to deal with the emotional fallout from twice being attacked by the serial killer Peter Olivier, she must also keep her emotions from getting in the way of their latest investigation in the Serial Crime Unit.
Henley and her coworker, Detective Constable Salim Ramouter, are called to the scene of a murdered pastor. Dr. Caleb Annan runs the first mega-church in Deptford, the Church of Annan the Prophet. And yes, Annan considered himself a prophet. But it’s obvious he didn’t predict that someone would stab him 48 times and leave him bleeding out on his sanctuary floor. Then, when Henley investigates the upper floor of the church, she discovers a hidden room and a tortured victim that shocks the hell out of her.
As Henley and Ramouter investigate, they find more tortured victims, all connected by suffering from mental illness.
Besides working the gruesome case, Henley must juggle her relationship with her boss—her old friend and lover, and also a victim of Peter Olivier—and with her husband. Ramouter must also come to terms with his injury from the Olivier case and the guilt he feels at not being able to care for his wife (who has early onset dementia) and their son like he needs to.
Then there is the accusation lobbed against Henley that she’s betraying every Black person whom she’s investigated or jailed. Just by doing her job, is she abandoning her responsibility to people of color? As the case continues, feelings of guilt and anger intertwine with the investigation.
Matheson again uses her narrative as a platform to address the need for justice: Issues of racial bias, misogyny, and the stigma of mental illness are skillfully written into the storyline, giving readers a real-world view of what it means to be treated as less than.
Read more of my review and interview with Matheson in The Big Thrill.