REVIEW: Maeve Fly by CJ Leede

Last Updated on June 9, 2023

With Maeve Fly, debut novelist CJ Leede wants to introduce readers to a new breed of serial killer.

Cover for Maeve Fly by CJ LeedeMaeve Fly, the eponymous protagonist (not to be confused with “heroine”), is living her best life. She resides rent-free in a palatial mansion owned by her grandmother Tallulah, a former actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She has a job that she loves, working as a costumed princess at the Happiest Place on Earth. She has a best friend, Kate, who is literally the Anna to her Elsa. She amuses herself watching VHS pornography and inciting online hate mobs. Oh, and she indulges in a little murder sometimes, as a treat.

But, as she is intensely aware, cracks are beginning to appear in Maeve’s cushy lifestyle. The grandmother that Maeve idolizes has been comatose for some time, and is receiving in-home hospice care. Her aspiring actress friend, Kate, is one successful audition away from stardom and an inevitable separation from Maeve. And despite their popularity with amusement park visitors, both Maeve and Kate are being subjected to increasing scrutiny by their employer. If all that weren’t enough, an unpredictable new element has arrived on the scene: Kate’s handsome and cocksure brother. A professional hockey player, Gideon both attracts and repels Maeve in equal measure. At any moment her house of cards could collapse, leaving Maeve rootless and adrift. And when Maeve Fly feels threatened, people die.

Written in the first person predatory perspective and peppered with pop culture references, American Psycho is the most obvious point of comparison for Maeve Fly, but there’s a fair amount tonally of Fight Club in here, too. Both Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk are directly referenced within the narrative, name-dropped alongside a number of outre authors, perhaps a self-aware bit of judo intended to disarm critics. Maeve herself has read the books her story is likely to be compared to, and she even glances at a copy of American Psycho before embarking on her final killing spree. But there’s more of interest to be found within this slick serial killer story than a simple gender swap. While habitual murderers are commonly portrayed as aloof, Maeve is anything but detached. She needs the grounding and stability that her grandmother and best friend provide. While she constantly strives to hide her murderous compulsion, at the same time she has a powerful desire to be understood and accepted. Ironically, to be seen. The way that ambivalence is handled is what distinguishes Maeve Fly from other serial killer stories.

With its uncompromising tone and unsettling main character, Maeve Fly is destined to be a divisive book. The violence is graphic, and Leede does not shy away from depictions of sexual assault or animal abuse.  Maeve is a forceful and liberated woman, but she’s simultaneously a black hole of need and dependence. She’s a fascinating character, but also an unrepentant monster. There’s no inciting incident from her past that turned Maeve into a killer, she’s a monster with no origin story. The people she kills and mutilates generally aren’t deserving of their fates. They don’t “have it coming.” There’s some sparse and under-cooked commentary about misogyny and gendered violence, but it’s undermined by the fact that Maeve acts more savagely towards women than any of the male characters in the book, and her brutality has a relentlessly sexual component. Maeve is not the subversive feminist icon some prospective readers may be looking for.

Maeve Fly is a pitch black character study. Leede promises a monstrous woman and she delivers with gusto. While full-on splatterpunk horror fans might be let down (Maeve tends to describe in detail the torments she’s about to unleash on her victims, with the actual execution taking place between chapters), the level of gore still feels a few notches above the mainstream horror novel average. With its strong characterization and compelling exploration of dark themes, Maeve Fly is an uncommonly aggressive and confident debut novel, and CJ Leede is an author to watch.

Read Maeve Fly by CJ Leede

Share this
Tags:
Robin Marx

Robin Marx

Born in Spain and raised in the United States, Robin Marx has lived in Japan for more than two decades. He works in the video game industry, handling localization and international licensing. In addition to over a dozen video games, his writing has appeared in a number of role-playing game supplements. He lives with his wife and their two daughters. You can link up with Robin over at: https://mastodon.social/@RobinMarx

Get grit in your inbox

Stay on top of all the latest book releases and discussions—join our mailing list.