Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Book Review: The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner

Pros: brilliantly intricate plot, fantastic finish, compelling, interesting characters

Cons: some disturbing imagery, some gross imagery, complicated plot was sometimes hard to follow

David Neff hasn't written since his wife's suicide 4 years ago, on the day they were to bring their new baby home from the hospital.  So when his agent suggests he try his hand at solving the murder of the Man from Primrose Lane, he baulks.  But his naturally obsessive nature takes over and he soon discovers that the case is connected to that of his wife, whose twin sister was kidnapped in front of her eyes when they were ten.  

The first 231 pages of this novel are straight up crime fiction.  The author, James Renner, has written two true crime books, and so knows what's required to investigate the kinds of cases David Neff faces.  This section of the novel tells about David's present and two parts of his past: his meeting and marriage to Elizabeth and the murder case he solves (and subsequently writes a book about).  This case, something he obsesses over for many years, requires crime scene descriptions of rape and murder victims, most of whom are children.  The imagery, while not gratuitous, caused this reviewer some unease, as did some of the gross descriptions found in the book.  While hearing that someone vomits is fine, knowing WHAT they've vomited up... isn't something this reviewer was prepared to learn.  One scene in particular caused this reviewer some concern for the contents of her own stomach.

The last third of the novel is pure science fiction.  The SF is fundamental to the story and complicates the already complicated plot.  In many ways this segment of the book reminded me of the movie Primer.  It would have been incredibly helpful to have a flowchart of what happened to whom and when.  Even before this segment, keeping characters straight was a bit of a challenge.  And unlike most books, where you can flip back through the linear narrative to refresh your memory, trying to find earlier passages - with the way the book jumps through time - was tough.

The mystery was very compelling and David's character fascinating.  And once I learned the twist I couldn't put the book down.  There were a few things that appeared to be plot holes but the author meticulously dealt with each one before finishing the book.  Indeed, the ending was absolutely brilliant.

The Man from Primrose Lane is not for the faint of heart but is ultimately rewarding for those who finish the book.

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