Rating: B-/ The writing in Ruthless is good, not great, but the interesting backstories of the two main characters and breakneck pacing make it more than worthy of a reader’s time. The plot revolves around Ruth Carver, a seventeen-year-old rancher’s daughter who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Ruth is so hot-tempered that some of the girls who work for her father on the family farm call her ‘Ruthless,’ behind her back, of course. The conflict wastes no time whatsoever getting started, with Ruth waking up with a head wound in the back of a man’s pick-up truck.
She soon discovers she has been abducted by a rapist/serial killer named Jerry, though she calls him ‘Wolfman’ throughout the book because of his lack of humanity and the animal quality and emptiness of his eyes. Now, the tenacity and refusal to play fair that made Ruth ‘Ruthless’ at home may be the only thing that keeps her alive after being abducted by a man for whom killing comes as easily as breathing. There is a flashback at the end of every chapter in this book, and they alternate between Ruth and Jerry’s backstories.
The parts of Jerry’s backstory that involve his mom abusing him and him having a complex against ‘dirty women’ who have red hair like his mother are pretty cliché, but besides that Carolyn Lee Adams manages to infuse some originality into her serial killer character. Anybody who reads stories or watches films about serial killers knows that mommy issues are the oldest trope in the book, so seeing them featured prominently in the development of Jerry’s character was somewhat disappointing.
However, I enjoyed Ruth’s character a lot. She’s a very flawed character but not so much as to make her hard to root for. I questioned some of her decisions throughout the book (her plan to go back to Jerry’s cabin after escaping and try to steal his truck was pure stupidity,) but I admired her strength and tenacity against seemingly unbeatable odds. I questioned some of the minor details in this book, for instance the house that had a key in a plastic rock next to the door yet is decked out in guns and artillery.
It seems to me that someone who has hundreds of guns is probably a bit of a paranoiac and wouldn’t make it that easy to get into their house. That’s a minor quibble, but it was things like that that took away from my enjoyment of an otherwise entertaining book. Ruthless is essentially a cat-and-mouse game between a predator and his intended prey. I believe it’s a young adult book, but I think adults will enjoy it too and besides, it might be too dark and disturbing for some teenagers.
I think this novel would make a good movie. If it was adapted into a film, I would definitely watch it. At certain points I didn’t think this book was dark enough, like they held back to avoid it getting to a certain level. I think the author played it fairly safe at times considering one of the main characters was a rapist and murderer of young girls. I thought the characters were well-developed, and the author did a good job using flashback method to make us understand the protagonist and antagonist’s motivations better. Ruth is a character I both liked and disliked at the same time, and it is her complexity that makes her work as a lead.
Jerry, on the other hand, has no redeeming qualities, but his flashbacks attempt to explain how he became the way he did. I’ll admit that I actually felt sorry for Jerry at certain moments in the book. He was an evil piece of shit but he was, like so many people, a product of his environment. I just wish the author would have come up with something more innovative for his character than a Madonna Whore complex brought on by an abusive mother. That plotline probably wasn’t even original when Hitchcock’s Psycho came out over half a century ago, and I rolled my eyes when it was used to predictable effect in this book.
I liked the character of Ruth’s friend Caleb, and the way she cares for him but privately thinks she’s too good for him because of his lower social status and dyslexia, but I found Caleb to be a little too perfect in the long run, almost a Gary Stu. He is nothing but good to Ruth throughout the whole book and dispenses life lessons exactly when she needs them. It is nice to have him in the book, even though he mostly appears in flashbacks. Otherwise the only main male character would be a murderer and molester. But Caleb lacks a much-needed edge, and would be utterly perfect if not for his lack of education.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and I felt it was worth reading. It’s plot-driven and suspenseful, but it also makes good use of it’s characters. I am nothing like Ruth, but I admired her strength and determination throughout her nightmare of an ordeal. There’s something innately fascinating about a victim turning the tables on a perpetrator, and the dynamics between predator and prey give this novel kick. It’s a fairly easy read and a page-turner which barely lets up on it’s suspense for a minute.