NICEVILLE


By Carsten Stroud

Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2012 ($26.95)

ISBN-13: 978-0-307-70095-7

Reviewed by Sam Waas

NICEVILLE is not very nice at all. It is, in fact, a scary place to live.

An old Civil War town with antebellum mansions, graced by elegant neighborhoods built by the founding families, sidled up against modern homes and the occasional ratty slum. Much like any town in the American Deep South, a sprinkling of each element of society, peaceful lives and criminal, wealth and poverty.

But the disappearances? Aye, there's the rub, as Hamlet opined. And not something people talk about much. Yet hundreds of citizens have simply evaporated, ceased to exist, gone missing. A steady stream of the lost has ticked up into news stories for more than a century, with no reasonable explanation. Latest is a young boy who literally vanishes in full view of a sidewalk surveillance video. One frame he's there, one second later, he's gone.

Officer Nick Cavanaugh investigates, but he and his colleagues are diverted by a brutal bank robbery, several police officers murdered during the hot pursuit, a news copter also shot from the sky. The boy's disappearance takes an understandable back seat to the manhunt for the cop killers. But are the crimes somehow linked? Is there a central motive force for the evils that propagate themselves on the town? To delve further into the plot would reveal spoilers galore. Just trust me. NICEVILLE is a thrilling, brilliantly written suspense novel.

Mr. Stroud builds a carefully crafted thriller, laced with the supernatural, but at the same time, solidly driven by everyday and conventional lives of the townspeople. This skillful blend of believable middle class citizens, some good, some bad, then stirred up with arcane threats and curses is very reminiscent of Stephen King's better narratives, such as Needful Things or The Green Mile. In other words, supernatural elements in Stroud's book do not override the general humanity of the characters, and the story therefore has integrity and depth far beyond fright-fest cheapies. There are a couple of small plot holes and other little flaws in the novel, but they are minimal.

The only readers who may not immediately take to this excellent mystery are those who completely eschew any supernatural threads. Everyone else will be captivated by NICEVILLE.

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