Author: Leighton Greene
Length: 431 Pages
Category: Noir Mystery, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
At a Glance: Incubus most certainly won’t be everyone’s cuppa. The cruelty is the point in this dark, twisted, base, deviant, and yet ridiculously compelling story. I couldn’t put it down.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Los Angeles, 1956.
Coleridge Fox has a liar for a lover, a gambling debt he can’t pay, and his screenwriting career is D.O.A.
He thought the Incubus, a serial killer hunting in Hollywood’s back streets, was the least of his worries, but now he’s starting to wonder.
Cole fell for the suave Leo Mancini the day they met, but is it ever really possible to trust a liar—especially when Mancini makes a murder suggestion sound like a marriage proposal?
Review: Incubus is as dark, twisted, and deviant a novel as I’ve read in quite some time. I didn’t like any of the characters in this story, they had no redeeming qualities to speak of, and yet I was so utterly fascinated by them and their psychopathic tendencies that I couldn’t put the book down. Author Leighton Greene has spun a cautionary tale of greed, betrayal, deception, murder, and the violation of trust that’s no easy read. So in case I haven’t made it clear enough, this is not a romance novel. Incubus has nothing to do with two people falling in love, in the traditional sense, and everything to do with manipulation, intimidation, misery, and the basest side of human nature.
1950s Los Angeles provides the backdrop for this bit of noir fiction, where a killer the press has dubbed Incubus is preying on young blond starlets. In fact, every single character in this story is either predator or prey; though some could be deemed both at any given moment. Coleridge Fox is the antihero of the tale, a man with a penchant for bourbon, getting himself into a world of trouble betting on the ponies, and with aspirations of making it big, if not as a Hollywood screenplay writer then as the next great American novelist, like his idol F. Scott Fitzgerald (the Gatsby-esque vibes included). When he’s picked up by a mysterious, wealthy stranger one evening in the bar at Chateau Marmont, the playground of the stars and those with aspirations of fame, a stranger who gets off on asphyxiating his sex partners, not always but sometimes to the point of them losing consciousness, Cole believes he’s found the answer to his problems.
Leo Mancini moves Cole into his bungalow at the hotel, giving him unrestricted access to Cole, and giving Cole unlimited access to not only every creature comfort he’s never before known, but to unlimited writing time as well. Though Leo is an enigma through and through, Cole is unprepentantly seduced by the man. Leo has a wealthy benefactor himself, however, and what a tangled web of corruption that is. When Cole is lured into that web under the guise of a paid gig interviewing the Marquess of Holford, Lord Reginald Cresswickham, for a local newspaper, to say his life would change forever is a massive understatement. Reggie is a collector—of art and, as consequences would have it for Cole, of people. Whether Leo had a hand in luring Cole into Reggie’s snare or he tried to protect Cole from Reggie, who is not only a powder keg with a short fuse given to explosive mood swings but an obvious psychopath as well, is an ongoing mystery.
Leighton Greene keeps up a steady hum of suspense and tension from beginning to end of this story. I found myself trying to see through the baseness of these characters’ words and actions for something softer, something sane in their behaviors, and was left emptyhanded at every turn, because the truth is they are awful people. The cruelty is, in fact, the point. Nearly every utterance and action was a lie, except for when the words and actions were meant to cut and debase. It was when they were at their most vile and predatory and manipulative that they were at their most transparent, and Cole’s struggle between animosity towards Leo and his inability to resist him was some prime conflict.
Incubus will absolutely not be everyone’s cuppa. I feel like I should give some content warnings, but honestly, the entire book is a content warning. It takes an unvarnished look at the sleaziest, darkest underbelly of its characters, some of which includes narcissism, pathological lying, gaslighting, the erosion of any sense of safety and security and trust, and a complete disregard for anything like boundaries or consent. Their brand of love is corruption, and people are either useful tools or they become detritus on the way to the end goal.
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