THERE ARE NO SAINTS - SOPHIE LARK ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The San Francisco art scene has some serial killers in their midst but which is bigger their appetite for murder, their competitive spirit or their... 👀 Pros: a protagonist that I could root for, a plot that kept me guessing, disgustingly delicious smut. Cons: I'm drawing a blank and thats upsetting me.
TRIGGER WARNING: VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, MURDER
Also, please enjoy my GoodReads review and follow me there if you'd like! This review is a great summary of all the things I plan to discuss at length below.
Tiktok is wrong for this one but also... thank you so much. I was scrolling through - like you do - when this video popped up and I instantly liked it and then googled the book. You got to, right? Serial killer smut? I didn't really have a choice.I recognize that this kind of book isn't for everyone and that's fine so no hard feelings if you want to bail out now but if you're with me... buckle up because here we go.
SERIAL KILLER SMUT? YOU MUST BE OUT OF YOUR MIND.
Let's go ahead and get this out of the way ok? I thoroughly enjoyed this series. From the beginning to end, it was a salacious mishmash of mayhem, murder, art, sex and chaos that I really responded to. DOES THAT CONCERN ME? No, and here's why.
For those of us who enjoy things like this - horror movies, true crime documentaries, violent video games, kinky sex and taboo, nefarious acts that we know we would never in a million years commit or participate in in real life - this book checks all the boxes, blends them together and delivers it to us to be enjoyed in a safe, low risk way. As long as you are not hurting anyone, you shouldn't feel bad about indulging in things like this, especially when everyone has the same inclination to a certain extent. Not everyone sees the appeal in the things I just listed, I get that. It's on a spectrum just like most of every other human experience/emotion. However, we all have curiosity inside us for things we would never actually indulge in. This type of book is tantalizing in the same way that following along with a messy celebrity break up is. It has the same pull that a car crash on the interstate has where even when you are flooded with mostly negative emotions (fear, anxiety, sympathy, sadness) you still can't look away.
We want to be involved but not affected and thanks to creations like this, we can live vicariously through the fictional works of the world where no one actually gets hurt.
Now that we've had a philosophical break down of the human experience, let's move on.
THE PLOT, THE CHARACTERS, THE WRITING
Ok... picture it. You're a small potatoes artist working three jobs to not only make ends meet but also to fund your real passion in hopes of one day achieving your artistic dreams. Then one day, to no fault of your own, you end up on the radar of not one, but TWO serial killers! It really is brutal out here.
Sophie Lark begins the book with a kind note to the readers who have "struggled with mental health" and tells us that everything inside of us - the good and the bad- are special because it makes us who we are... so naturally, I already liked her. That was only enriched by the story she told and the style in which she wrote. I'm not a literary expert, but her writing was engaging and easy to read. I always appreciate that because if I wanted to read Infinite Jest and feel like a "smart smart", I'd do that. Sometimes I just want to understand what you're trying to tell me without having to read, re-read, google definitions and piece together shit.
The chapters alternate between the two main characters, Mara and Cole, with the first chapter belonging to Cole and his unique voice and perspective. His chapters become more enjoyable as the book goes on, but as for Mara, I instantly liked and connected with her. As an artist myself who grew up with a shaky familial foundation and lots of mental health struggles, I saw a lot of myself in her. Like I said, Mara works several jobs in order to make ends meet and fund her hobby that she hopes to one day do for a living: painting. In the meantime, she rents a room in the tippy top of a big, old house filled with a bunch of other colorful, outlier type folks who are also struggling but living their best lives in tandem. On the flip side, Cole is a very structured, pragmatic, stoic human being. A local celebrity on the art scene who wants for nothing and has everything. He was obviously less of an instant connection for me because I have never been any of those things: stoic, structured, rich. Must be nice. Other than that though, we don't really get much insight into Cole (we get more insights of his life in the second book) because most of his time is spent trying to see, observe and figure out Mara.
A third character that doesn't have a voice but does have a big a presence is Alastor Shaw, the other serial killer and artist. They initially paint them as being very competitive in both areas but it really comes across later on to be very one sided.
They all cross paths at an art gallery show fairly early on but neither of the men speak to or connect with Mara. They both notice her though, which would be a compliment if these men weren't serial killers. Pretty soon after the initial art show where they are all in attendance, things start to happen.
HERE COME THE SPOILERS CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE SAFE ZONE
An important thing to remember is that Cole and Shaw are both serial killers, but each of them has a type, a style and an MO. Cole kills people who can't be connected back to him and mainly men. He kills efficiently and disposes of the bodies in a place they will never be found and even if they were, they'd never be traced back to him. Shaw on the other hand is a ruthless torture killer of women known as the Beast of the Bay. He leaves his victims viciously attacked, covered in wounds and displayed in a way that sends a message. The message? Fear.
Once Cole notices Mara at the gallery show, Shaw notices that Cole noticed her. Cole noticing her was fairly innocent, but Shaw noticing him notice her is anything but.
When Mara is abducted however, you have no idea who did it at first. I assumed it would have been Cole when reading in real time because Shaw seemed like a secondary character at the time. Shaw bashed this girl in the head, stripped and bound her, drug her into the woods in the middle of the night and pierced her freaking nipples... my mouth hung to the floor. I was imaging a lot of things but when he pierced her nipples, I was shook.
When Shaw leaves Mara for dead in the woods (after cutting her wrists) she and Cole come face to face for the first time which you get to experience through both of their eyes which was WILD. From Cole's POV, he stumbles across this girl, dying and dumped in the close vicinity of where he dumps his victims' bodies. He knows it's a trap Shaw left for him. He weighs his options of saving her or killing her and after he locks eyes with her, calmly decides that this isn't his problem, she will die on her own anyway and he steps right over her body and goes home. From Mara's POV, she sees this man as she is slowly bleeding to death and recognizes him from the gallery. She is filled with many emotions as she tries to figure out what him being here means. Did he do this to her, can he help her, etc. Ultimately she watches him walk over her and leave her alone in the darkness. This part had me so anxious because like... where can this lead?! There were seriously so many directions this book could've taken and my mind had to have cycled through at least 1500 of them.
Cole ends up not hearing or seeing any news coverage about a dead girl so he tracks down her residence only to see her come strolling out the front door like nothing happened! His inner anguish was really fun to experience. She saw me. Is she going to go to the cops? Will they believe her? Do I have to kill her now? This is the part of the book where he starts being more fascinated by and less terrified of this girl he barely knows that he left for dead in the woods.
The airbnb with the Joe Goldberg vantage point had me screaming.
His fascination is understandable. This girl should be dead, she somehow survived. She didn't tell the police (to his knowledge) or anyone else for that matter. She also kept the nipple piercing so what the hell does it all mean?! Once he started showing up at the restaurant she worked at though, I felt like Mara gave in a little too quickly. He literally walked over your bleeding, naked body girl. He does not deserve to get to know you!
There really wasn't that much smut in this book, not to the level I had anticipated anyway. The sex scenes that we do get are really hot though. Speaking of...
The revenge painting sex scene was something I'd heard about on Tiktok before reading the book so I was expecting it and somehow, it still caught me off guard. When I saw the video talking about it, I thought, "That's so cheesy. I am going to hate this book." When I read it though... POWER MOVE LEVEL 15. It was cheesy and spiteful and I loved every second of it.
Last but not least, I want to talk about one of my biggest reading pet peeves: the redemption arc for the irredeemable character. In a lot books I've read, the toxic character is pulled through an often unbelievable redemption arc in attempt to prove that they are actually good and just misunderstood or whatever. I cannot effing stand this and most authors do it in such obvious, dumb ways that it makes me angry at the author/the book rather than the shitty character. Sometimes bad people are just bad people! In another book I read and reviewed, this was so poorly done that it altered my perception of the books. What I appreciated about Saints is that Lark didn't appear to be doing this, at least not in a way that was clear to me. If she was, she did a great job because I didn't even notice. Bravo. Cole is a serial killer at the end of the day, what is there to be redeemed? No matter what comes out of his closet, past or his mouth, he wakes up every day and chooses to kill people. We all have trauma, we all have baggage and none of that is a valid excuse for someone to become a serial killer, nor do I -the reader- want to be involved in you trying to explain (excuse) away the behavior and rebrand this awful character as cHaNgEd. It isn't necessary and attempting to erase bad behavior by presenting explanations (excuses) only makes me feel like the author doesn't respect the readers. Again, I didn't get that feeling here. I don't think Lark was scrambling to piece together a troublesome past in order to excuse or change Cole. He is what he is and he began to act differently throughout the book in a way that felt believable and not forced. I went into this book knowing that it was going to be serial killer smut... a redemption arc wasn't needed and I am glad she didn't try to do that. It makes me like her even more.
Serial killer smut isn't for everyone, but if you are the least bit intrigued by my take on this, I highly recommend these books. Even without the smut I believe the story and the characters would have been a great standalone story, but the smut was just a spicy bonus that I am not angry about. The book was well written by an author whose voice felt genuine, unforced and as though she has lived some version of these things herself which makes her writing not only endearing but believable.
I haven't decided yet if I will review the second book or not. I may get Hannah to do it just for a different perspective.