Bri Ahearn's Reviews > The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
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's review
Feb 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: humor, set-in-florida, quirky
Read in February, 2012

Review originally from

I picked up this one for a few reasons:

I was in an indie bookstore - the cute Downtown Books and Purl in Apalachicola, Florida and it was on one of their tables.

The character had my last name - Ahearn. And spelled the same way!

The book took place in Tallahassee, Florida, where I went to college.

The plot involves a 77 year old woman plotting to kill a doctor.

The cover piqued my retro-loving heart.

How could I not read this book? It's not YA but it just looked so good. Later I realized that the reason the book had so much "Florida feel" and was all about Tallahassee was the author is from my alma mater, FSU. I think people toss around the word "rollicking" too much for novels, but damn, was this book rollicking! It's a dark comedy about a mixed up family who just might need a little help.

She's planned it for months. Marylou Ahearn is going to make Dr. Wilson Spriggs pay. Pay for what he did to her family and definitely pay for the radioactive cocktail he had her take in 1953. Fifty three years later, it's payback time. She moves into his neighborhood, into his family, into his life and plans his murder.. but maybe revenge isn't as sweet as she thought.

What truly gets me is this story is true. Not the doctor-killing part, but the radioactive cocktails. You can read the backstory on author Elizabeth Stuckey-French's website.

The characters are flawed. All of them. Terrifically and horribly flawed and some do awful things, and yet Stuckey-French tells the story with multiple perspectives and with a good depth, that I enjoyed getting to know them. I love a good flawed character and I love it even more when I can want them to succeed even as they do things that I want to scream "really?" at them for. Marylou's plot begins with renaming herself as "Nancy Archer" (after Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) and infiltrating Wilson Spriggs' family who all have a secret and a dark side. The mother, Caroline, can barely stand her own children and has given up on her marriage. The father, Vince, tracks hurricanes in his cave of an office and tries to ignore the temptation to cheat with his over-eager Southern co-worker, Gigi. One daughter, Suzi, holds the family together always striving to be perfect, in an attempt to balance out the chaos her two siblings Otis and Ava can wreak, both who have Aspberger's. Ava's obsessed with Elvis Presley and Otis is building a nuclear device. Then there's Wilson Spriggs who doesn't know where he is half the time. Marylou quickly sees that the family could easily self-destruct with just a slight nudge from her, and it's a compelling read on how she goes about trying to do it. Inside all of that is a heartbreaking journey through grief with a zany story along the way.

My favorite part of the novel were the multiple POVs. I especially like Suzi, wry and trying so hard to stay above water. It's Suzi who brings Marylou into the family. Plus Florida is basically a character in the story - especially Tallahassee. Each page mentioned something I was familiar with - a street, a church next to a dollar cinema, a state park. I loved this book and all three women I was with wanted to read it, so it shall be making the rounds of my family. And I'm already adding Stuckey-French's other books to my to-read list.

It's the Florida humor of Carl Hiassen and Tim Dorsey, mixed with the crazy family sensibility of Erma Bombeck.


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