A solid 3.5 stars rounded to 4
Why? Rounded-up for an intriguing and incredibly creative plot. Stars taken off for the structure of the narrative.
Imagine the world where the spirits of slain Children can return to exact revenge and to give closure to their cherished ones and finally “restore the balance.” Justice in a world without any.
Recovering alcoholic and ex-NYPD detective, Willow Wylde, aka “Dubya.” is fresh out of rehab and about to take on the world without intoxicants. As a divorcee, Willow has one last attempt to be a father to his daughter and a grandfather to little Larkin. But Detective Willow is still unchanged, a collision of self and destructiveness as he tries to navigate his sobriety. Strange deaths are occurring in Saggerty Falls, and Detective Willow uses his experience attempting to piece together the crimes. What he learns is deadly, but what he becomes is reinvented.
The premise of the novel is that murdered children can inhabit a moribund adult body and exact revenge on the person that wronged them. There is a Guide Book and a structure of this society -The Porter (Annie, the guide), sentries (assistants to the Porter), roommates (child spirit), and landlords (the moribund adult body). And there is the train that arrives at the station with their Subalterns (train sentries). The children take on the ride to their final mission. But something is amiss.
The novel is recounted in the third person and begins with a writing style is difficult to appreciate and appears to read as a stream of consciousness. I grappled with the presentation of the first few chapters, trying to grasp onto words that seemed to be placed together with a forced atmosphere of chaos. Even though the pace is slow, the narrative jogs all over the place. There are alternating stories, multiple points of view, and timelines. Finally, there is an abundance of characters within characters and their full set of details which created confusion. I was forced to read and re-read. And sometimes I moved on and it made sense later. The chapter headings and sub-headings were helpful but not always.
But where the narrative fails in structure, it makes up in character development and imagination. I enjoyed Detective Willow, a character you can both love and despise at the same time. A loathsome man is attempting to reassert his place in his neglected family. His love is palpable as he rediscovers relationships. As a retired old cop, he takes a chance at getting his old job back but knows he is washed up. Middle age makes him feel invisible. But he has a gift of voices he has been suppressing.
Other noteworthy characters in the novel are a murderous duo. Laverne and Grundy’s creepy rituals may keep me up at night. Although the descriptions of their killing are not gruesome, it is hair-raising and sinister.
Finally, The structure of the spirit world was impressive world building. There was a feeling of strangeness, and it was believable. The transparent hue of the Blue Earth, the train arriving at the station in dreams, the whispers of instruction, the Tom Collins and a cookie on a tray, the integration of body and spirit. The spooky and surreal ambiance was on point.
Overall, there is a mystery, mysticism, and some gruesome brutality. A great concept to juxtapose the paranormal/science fiction genre with horror. It fell short in the structure, but the story still unfolds, and those bits are brilliant. Not for the faint heart and for those who prefer a more streamlined read.
Thank you, NetGalley, PENGUIN GROUP Blue Rider Press & Plume for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.