‘The Bathwater Conspiracy’ by Janet Kellough – a subtly subversive mystery

‘The Bathwater Conspiracy’ is a quietly subversive book that imagines a world without men.

I’ve read some very good pieces of speculative fiction recently that have confronted me with the things men do to women, from ‘The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires’ with the vampire embodying all that is worst about the patriarchy through ‘Girls With Sharp Sticks’ and ‘The Grace Year’ which set women up in life and death struggles against the men controlling them. ‘The Bathwater Conspiracy’ takes a different, gentler but ultimately much more damning approach. It just makes the men disappear and wonders if we would miss them. The answer that I came away with was, ‘not so much.’

Set in a future where men have been extinct for generations and humanity has moved on, ‘The Bathwater Conspiracy’ follows the investigation of Detective Carson “Mac” MacHenry into the exceptionally violent murder of a young woman and the subsequent attempts of the Federal authorities to cover it up. It set Mac on a path that will reveal a secret that could change the world.

I was initially a little thrown by the gentle, low-key tone of this mystery. Then I came to see that the tone was part of the evocation of an all-woman world where even an experienced detective has difficulty imagining levels of violence and aggression that we would take for granted.

It’s actually quite a profound change, like suddenly not having any traffic noise in a city. It affects everything.

I also enjoyed the humour in this book. When Mac is researching ancient history to see what men were like, she finds that many religions imposed restrictions on how women dressed or even prevented them going out lest the men who see them are thrown into a frenzy of lust that they can’t control. Here’s her reaction:

‘If men were so unreliable as to go off the deep end whenever they saw a stray tress or two, wouldn’t it make more sense to lock them up and just let the women get on with their lives? Otherwise, it would be like having a dog that bites and insisting that the people on your street stay inside so they won’t get bitten.’

I now want more of Janet Kellough’s writing so I’ll be taking a look at her Thaddeus Lewis series of historical mysteries set in mid-nineteenth-century  Canada.

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