Tade Thompson’s 2017 The Murders Of Molly Southbourne is a standalone novel of SF horror.
Molly’s parents taught her four simple rules:
If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight.
If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach.
If you find a hole, find your parents.
Failure to follow any one of these rules could mean death. For Molly, for her parents, for anyone involved.
Molly learns the reason for the rules while still a young girl. Her blood makes new mollys. Drops of her blood quickly grow into girls who look just like Molly. Although some mollys seem docile at first, all of them eventually develop an irresistible urge to kill their original. They must be killed before they can kill.
Molly’s parents raise her in isolation. No one to ask questions. No one to notice the killings, the bodies, the burnings.
Despite her parents’ well-founded concerns, Molly insists on leaving home to go to college. The ancient university she selects has a thousand years experience teaching the aristocracy and the smarter commoners. It doesn’t have any experience dealing with someone like Molly, or with monsters like the mollys. But it does have science. Perhaps science can solve Molly’s little problem.
What it does is reveal further unsettling facts about her condition, facts that a life lived in isolation had hidden from her.
Readers may notice one or two thematic parallels between this story and yesterday’s Flesh Failure. This is completely coincidence, an example of an inadvertent synchronicity that happens to me over and over. The similarities are outweighed by the differences.
Most parents would want to keep their child alive even if that child were incessantly spawning homicidal moppets1. That’s just normal human behaviour. Molly’s parents have even more reason to keep Molly alive. Birthrates have fallen so low that any baby is a cause for celebration. This does not seem to be a cultural or behavioural problem; it seems to be something biological or medical. Never explained. Perhaps inexplicable.
Although this can be read as a lit-fic mood piece (thanks in great part to the polished prose and exquisitely controlled unspooling of the narrative) there is a rational (within the context of the story) explanation for Molly’s condition. It’s not just magic! It’s science! Of a grim sort.
Perhaps because I’ve been mainlining morose British procedurals and supernatural series since I reactivated Netflix, I can easily imagine this story on the small screen. For that reason, I note with considerable interest that The Murders Of Molly Southbourne has been optioned by Cathy Schulman’s Welle Entertainment. Handled correctly, this could be a fine, if depressing, serial. Perhaps like The Tunnel. Or Broadchurch. Or the child of The Tunnel and Broadchurch,
[Editor’s note: I read this and wish I hadn’t — despite its formal beauty. But I dislike horror. If it is your thing, go right ahead.]
1: Because my memory is oddly cross-wired, ever time a new molly showed up I was reminded of the Misaka clones from A Certain Scientific Railgun. What with their murderous instincts and apocalyptic implications, mollys are nowhere near as endearing as Last Order and her many, many sisters. Trust me, if you’d seen or read A Certain Scientific Railgun, that previous sentence would make sense.