In Sascha Rothchild’s new femme noir thriller, she takes us on a unique and riveting ride in the life of thirty-year-old therapist Ruby Simon who lives in Miami. At age five, Ruby drowned a seven-year-old bully who was driving her sister insane. Ruby made sure he didn’t.
So begins Ruby’s brilliant and mesmerizing story. Rothchild gives Ruby a confessional voice, an analytical mind, and a vigilante’s heart. As a therapist, Ruby understands people. We feel as if she’s sitting in a homey room in a comfy chair with a glass of wine as she tells us about her life and why she killed three people. We raise our glasses, convinced she’s done everyone a favor.
But she’s not in a homey room. Instead, it’s twenty-five years after she drowned the seven-year-old bully, and she’s sitting at a metal table that’s bolted to a concrete floor. As Detective Keith Jackson questions her, he lays four photos face down on the table. He’s certain she killed her husband. Jackson thinks he has the goods on her, but what he needs is a confession. What are these photos, and what does he know? Does he have damaging evidence up his sleeve?
As each photo is turned over, she confides to us the circumstances of the murders. Ruby has a rational explanation for each. She analyzes everything she does and admits to sometimes overanalyzing, but she knows who she is—not guilty of her husband’s death.
As a therapist, she also knows she’s not a psychopath, just a person who has found herself in situations where she had to save someone, including herself, from a rapist. But her husband? She loved him. She was happy. The detective, however, doesn’t believe her. Why did she clean out all her husband’s things immediately after he died, from cookbooks to flip-flops to surf wax? As Ruby says, we all grieve differently.
Sascha Rothchild’s mesmerizing thriller is written in short chapters with brilliant details and fascinating characters like Ruby’s friend and lawyer, Roman, who owes her big time for keeping a major secret. He takes on her case.
Rothchild stealthily creates Ruby as sympathetic and loving. Ruby falls apart when her sweet dog, Kangaroo, dies. She cares about her husband, her cat, and her clients. Her husband, a diabetic, needs to be watched carefully, and she loses sleep so that she won’t miss an alarm if it goes off when his blood sugar plummets. With Gabriel, a client, she goes out of her way to prove to her that Gabriel loved a myth she created about her partner. The way she cares about her clients gives us more evidence that she couldn’t have possibly killed her husband. We root for her to outwit this determined and manipulative detective with his photos and guesswork.
Then there is Ruby’s mother-in-law, Gertrude, who hates her. Ruby calls her the Witch. Gertrude adds conflict, suspense, and twists to the story. Ruby tries to keep her out of their life. Even her husband had cut ties with his mother. Ruby, the therapist, says there are two types of abusers, pit bulls and cobras, and Gertrude falls heavily into the scarier cobras because they’re sly, smart, quiet—and never let you go.
In the end, Ruby tells us that kindness, not cunning, saves her. But read closely. Whose kindness and whose cunning? Plus, there’s that predisposition for killing those she deems evil. Will we find out what she plans to do after such a close call?
I added Blood Sugar to my shelf of “best-loved femme noir thrillers.” I’ve already started reading it again.
Sascha Rothchild keeps the action flowing and the story gripping, and that’s probably due to her being an Emmy-nominated screenwriter who has written and produced lauded shows such as GLOW, The Bold Type, The Baby-Sitters Club, and The Carrie Diaries. Blood Sugar is her debut novel.
Thanks to Putnam and Sascha Rothchild for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.