If ever a book required a Trigger Warning, this book would be it!
I chose to read and review The Schwarzschild Radius by Gustavo Florentin merely because I found the description of the book intriguing. The story is set in New York, a place very close to my heart, and it involves the kind of depravity we rarely see in the horror genre anymore. It takes a lot to shock me and make me uncomfortable. While nothing really shocks me, because I truly understand there is immense evil in this world, I was completely uncomfortable throughout a lot of this book. While necessary, Florentin takes the reader to places many of us never hope to go, and yet he does so with a subtlety that doesn’t necessarily make it gratuitous.
The Schwarzschild Radius follows Rachel, an 18 year old, who is quite smart, especially in science. She is about to enter her freshman year at Columbia University, where she received a scholarship. A week or so before classes start, her younger sister, Olivia, disappears. Nothing seems to make sense about the disappearance. Olivia, 16, who Rachel’s parents adopted as a baby, is a genius, musical prodigy, and all around caring, intelligent, and well rounded individual. She volunteers at a homeless shelter for youth in Manhattan, has an early entry, full ride scholarship to Harvard University, and she is responsible and mature beyond her years.
After posing as a homeless youth, Rachel discovers her sister was living a double life. After working at a sleazy peep show, where her sister apparently worked, Rachel learns Olivia wasn’t just undressing for money she was also making porn movies, as well as visiting private homes of a specific, rich clientele. At their homes, Olivia was dancing and having sex with them. These men are the most depraved of men, as all of them have a desire for young girls, and they’re more than willing to pay for their services. With the seedy netherworld of pornographic pedophilia so close, Rachel is following a dangerous path in her sister’s footsteps. This path led Olivia to the Webmaster, a dangerous sociopathic serial killer, who auctions underage girls and young women off to the highest bidder. Each auction allows the winner to buy a private show and eventual video of their deaths. In essence, they receive the ultimate snuff video.
The thing about this book is that it had some great moments that I didn’t expect. Even if the book had moments that were predictable, which it did, the story is so fast paced, I found it difficult to put down. The ultimate sign of whether a book is worth reading is if it keeps you turning pages, and this book certainly does that. I wanted to know who The Webmaster was. I wanted to know why a girl who had virtually everything was resorting to something girls who had few options were having to resort to doing. I wanted to know how a subplot, which involved a young sex worker internationally, was going to play out and how it tied into the main story. I had a lot of questions, and all of them were answered, by the end of the book.
My big problem with The Schwarzschild Radius, and the reason why it did not get a higher rating, was that there were a few instances where the author wanted us to suspend our disbelief, a little too much. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but this was especially true during the ending of the book. Both the epilogue, and the last few chapters have moments that seem a little too unbelievable to really happen. While there were moments in the end that really surprised me, I did predict the final outcome, well before the last chapters.
I also fully believe that some people will find this book a turnoff simply because of the content. The Schwarzschild Radius offers a mature subject matter, and there are many things that people do not want to talk about. The idea of child sex labor is taboo, in and of itself. While Florentin doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the sex trade, he handles this taboo subject delicately, and doesn’t delve so far into it that it feels gratuitous or exploitative.
Ultimately, this one is a nail biter. If you like suspenseful stories, and can handle the subject matter, I say give this book a read. While the build up is great and full of suspense, just don’t be surprised if the outcome doesn’t fit your idea of what should have happened, because otherwise you’ll probably be disappointed.