Author Sascha Rothchild makes her fiction debut with Blood Sugar, an unsettling thriller that won’t be for everyone. However, it’s likely to hook those looking for a departure from the typical approach to the genre, which so often pits an innocent protagonist against a killer.
Instead, Blood Sugar is told from the perspective of a murderer. And its devastating opening will serve as a litmus test for many, determining whether they put the book down or read all the way through. The novel kicks off with a bold choice and continues to unravel in surprising ways. And its premise is its strongest quality, with everything falling into place behind it.
Rothchild’s story finds 30-year-old Ruby Simon accused of murdering her husband. Although he died of Type 1 diabetes, the police have reason to believe she was responsible. At the request of her mother-in-law, they begin digging into Ruby’s past. What they uncover paints an incriminating picture.
The irony of the situation is that Ruby has killed people—three, to be exact. Her husband isn’t among them, but her presence during the other deaths casts suspicion on her. Thus begins an investigation that takes readers through the entirety of her life. And the author’s depiction of the main character is nuanced and balanced enough to leave readers feeling more than a little unnerved.
What’s so unsettling about Blood Sugar is that it simultaneously paints Ruby as a cold and calculating monster, but also as a human being. So often thrillers whittle the killer’s personality down to their worst or most evil tendencies, but this story proves that even seemingly kind, well-intended people are capable of the unthinkable.
In a sense, Rothchild flips many of the stereotypical serial killer qualities on their head. Ruby doesn’t harm innocent animals; she cares for them. She doesn’t target people for no reason; in her mind, her victims “deserve” it. And Ruby maintains a “helping” profession and meaningful relationships, her public-facing persona far from what you’d associate with antisocial behavior.
Of course, at the end of the day, Blood Sugar’s protagonist remains a remorseless killer. But it’s a testament to Rothchild’s writing that she can so frequently get readers to forget this fact. The author makes it clear that this story isn’t being told by the most reliable of narrators. However, Ruby’s moments of vulnerability and grief make it hard not to feel for her.
But getting the audience to relate to and at times root for Ruby turns out to be both the book’s strength and its Achilles heel. As Blood Sugar pushes toward its ending, the novel trips over itself trying to find a satisfying conclusion. One has to wonder if it ties up its loose ends a little too neatly—and what readers are supposed to take away from Ruby’s story beyond the fact that it’s an entertaining ride.
To its credit, Blood Sugar serves as an indictment of the criminal justice system as much as its main character. That Ruby finds herself in the midst of a trial for the one crime she didn’t commit speaks to how easily an innocent situation can be twisted. It also highlights how guilty parties can get away with crimes, assuming they take advantage of things like legal loopholes, public perception, and circumstantial evidence.
But while the novel offers plenty to analyze on that front, its ending still leaves something to be desired. Once Ruby’s finished recounting her misdeeds to the audience, the pacing starts to slow. The twists and turns don’t feel nearly as shocking beyond the halfway point. At times, Blood Sugar’s later chapters teeter on the line between a thriller and a contemporary novel. Even Ruby’s trial proves a fairly straightforward affair.
Still, that shouldn’t deter readers from picking up Rothchild’s debut. There’s plenty to appreciate about this story, including how it upends expectations about what this genre is supposed to be and do. It’s an entertaining tale that grips you in the first half. By the time it slows to catch its breath, the audience will be invested enough that they’ll want to keep reading. And that desire to learn what happens to Ruby makes this an uncomfortable character study—one that forces the reader to question themselves throughout.
Blood Sugar is available now from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Amanda Mullen is a pop culture writer who can usually be found juggling her never-ending Netflix queue with the pile of books she needs to read. You can find her gushing about all things entertainment @peaksandpages on Twitter.