Eva Cavell likes to go to the movies. And, when she goes to the movies, she allows desperate strangers to fondle her in the dark.
I once encountered a woman like this at the cinema. I complained to the manager. I said, “Manager, there’s a woman in this cinema who allows desperate strangers to fondle her in the dark.”
The Manager said, “Are you making a formal complaint?”
I said, “Of course I am. She keeps changing seats and I can’t find where she’s gone.”
Sinning in the cinema is not all of the story in Messalina, Devourer of Men, but it introduces us to Eva and a few of the main issues she brings to the novel. She lacks confidence, she feels she’s a few pounds overweight, and she’s conscious of a class-culture that subjugates her because of her race. Either Eva is thinking we’re all the same size and colour in a darkened movie theatre, or she’s come across a much more satisfying way of being entertained whilst watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Without wishing to sound mean, if there had been someone like Eva in the cinema when I went to see an epic showing of those Lord of the Ring movies, there’s a strong likelihood I might have stayed awake through the damned things. Instead, I watched the first one up to the point where the characters started walking somewhere, and woke up when all the Hobbits were in bed together looking eerily excited and pleased with themselves in a scene that was more camp than a row of pink tents.
I’ll say now, this is a well-written and entertaining story. Zetta Brown can tell a compelling tale and she makes her characters rich, real and risqué. Eva’s journey from being the beloved bane of The DeLuxe Theatre is strong in detail and always filled with sensuous, sexual developments. Zetta Brown writes exciting erotic scenes but she’s not afraid to inject the fantastical fulfilment of passion with a healthy dose of realism.
At the movie house, whilst enjoying a Thursday afternoon matinee performance, Eva encounters the smooth and irresistible Jared Delaney. From there we enter the territory of an unconventional romance. Jared and Eva begin to discover themselves (and each other) and slowly learn that what they want from life is not necessarily those things they have spent their years chasing.
But Zetta Brown’s eye for credible detail stretches beyond incredible naughtiness in the back row. When Jared and Eva become an item they bring with them their baggage from her job and his previous relationships. Their relationship is passionate and intense from the first moment, but this doesn’t mean that Zetta Brown doesn’t force Jared to go through the ritual of meeting Eva’s parents. Nor does it mean that Eva gets to escape the trauma of having to work on a campus populated by spoilt, rich brats and ivory-tower superiors. And this tapestry of background detail makes the story richer and more believable.
Messalina, Devourer of Men is fun from beginning to end. The characters in this story are deliciously realistic and, even though the situations sometimes border on the fantastical, they are always grounded in Eva’s pragmatic reactions and responses. Faults are discovered, and either addressed, dealt with or accepted.
It should come as no surprise that this story completes itself in relation to the cinema where Eva has been spending her Thursday afternoons. At the beginning of the story she has been watching contrived stories of happiness and excitement whilst struggling to find a place for her own unfulfilled sexuality. At the climax of the novel, Eva has contrived her own story and finally found the place where her needs can be satisfied. As to whether or not she’s written her own “Happy Ever After” – that’s something you’ll need to find out from reading the book.All that I’m going to say is, if you get a kick out of passionate character interplay, breath-taking realism and well-written prose, then you should find Messalina, Devourer of Men to be a hugely entertaining and enjoyable read.