Part of the three-author collection Beyond Reform collection (which itself won a Splatterpunk Award this year) “The Martini Club” introduces us to Jane, Summer, Jody and Ellen. These dour true-crime enthusiasts were brought together by a shared interest in the life and crimes of Alfred Martini, an incarcerated serial killer who gained notoriety in the eighties as the Subway Slasher, Martini is a man most would see as a monster – but the women of the Martini Club do not necessarily agree:
“We’ve beaten this to a bloody fucking pulp, going back to when we all met in the chat room. Alfred Martini didn’t kill all those women, it was what society turned him into that killed them. It was his pedophile mother, abusive father, and the constant ridicule of his peers that perverted him. You guys all know how sweet he is in real life. He’s sorbet,” Jane explained exhaling with a deeply ingrained passion.
Between them, these four women have developed a plan to break the Subway Slasher out of prison, smuggle him to a retreat in the middle of nowhere and spend the rest of their days with him as the sort of family that would do Charles Manson proud.
“The Martini Club” begins in the late stages of this plan, with Martini well on his way to salvation, and its opening stretch is concerned less with the logistics of the jailbreak and more with the psychology of serial killer culture. We are told that most of society has forgotten Martini, with other killers having since captured the attention of media and public; yet the story’s protagonists are obsessed with him – a perverse affection that the group is always willing to try and justify. “We have a right to love, and to find love, so matter how unconventional”, says Jane.
The story’s cast consists of gross-out cartoon caricatures, reminiscent of Edward Lee’s books. Jody, despite being a lesbian, remains attracted to the serial killer who sees her as unappealingly masculine (“He didn’t communicate with anyone unless they had a pussy, and when Jody had first approached him, he wasn’t even quite sure if she qualified”). Ellen is the group’s doubting Thomas, and has to be repeatedly reassured by the others – particularly Jane, the near-fanatical leader. Then we have the sexually-promiscuous Summer, whose physical attributes render her valuable when the jailbreak plan involves hitchhiking:
Summer kicked out her leg like a hooker in heat and pulled down her top so the edges of her areolas were creeping over. “Please don’t be a faggot, please don’t be a faggot,” her politically incorrect mutters persisted aloud.
While the truck closed in, Summer jumped up and down, letting her enormous ballooned titties bounce like a pair of carnal yoyos. The carrot was dangled in front of them, and just as she’d suspected with about 98% of her heart, the sweaty primal-minded men keyed in on her fun-bags.
Despite the exaggerated nature of its characters, the story has a degree of psychological depth and is unafraid to examine the underpinnings of true-crime culture. The fangirls discuss their favourite Subway Slasher victims as though they were members of a pop group, and openly express necrophilic arousal at the slayings. “I always get wet whenever I think about Charlotte”, says Jane. “Completely fucking drenched. She was the last one… he did her the worst. I just picture those little teenage titties severed and still bleeding on the floor.” Even when they themselves are being brutalised by Martini, the women remain enraptured.
Although the story places each of its five main characters under the microscope to some extent, author Aron Beauregard shows himself to be more confident writing the crude, unhinged dialogue of Alfred Martini than the women’s speech, the latter having a somewhat inconsistent aspect. Jane in particular veers between horny fangirl and armchair psychologist: “You were molded by malicious hands. Even you said it in your Dateline interview… it’s not nature, it’s nurture that crippled your future.”
The character studies continue until two plot twists come into play. The first is predictable enough – few would expect Martini to treat his new company with kid gloves – but the second is more substantial, the story coming up with a strong variation on the Final Girl convention. Of course, a story like this is sold less on novelty or blistering analysis of society’s fascination with serial killers, and more on splatter. Sure enough, once the dominos start falling in the final quarter of “The Martini Club” (and a large quarter it is, given the story’s overall length) there is a very big mess to clean up. Look no further than the unfortunate character who ends up as a “bag of jammy skin, hair, brains, and bone… a grim gumbo that should have repulsed the average civilian to the core.”
And, really, this is a turn of phrase that sums up “The Martini Club”.