Saturday, November 10, 2012


Carsten Stroud

If Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie co-wrote a supernatural detective story, you'd probably end up with something like Carsten Stroud's Niceville. Titled after its setting, the story begins with the sudden vanishing of a little boy (not a figure of speech—he literally disappears) and the killing of several police officers. The effects of both events spread out, affecting the lives of 21 different characters throughout the course of the story, interconnecting them in a complex web of secrets and conspiracies that have their roots back at the turn of the twentieth century.

I mention Tarantino because of the book’s snappy dialogue. The conversations are quippy and entertaining, effectively holding the reader’s attention. The Ritchie parallel comes from Stroud’s ability to string together so many storylines in ways that interconnect like a fascinating puzzle box, granting multiple eureka moments to readers as we're given tantalizing bits of info with which to try and stitch together our own answers.

It's difficult to classify Niceville as a single genre because the book makes effective use of a cornucopia of different tropes. It's a noir mystery structured like a morbid comedy-of-errors and ridged with a number of increasingly creepy horror elements, with the use of the latter being one of the most impressive features of the book. Stroud makes use of minimalistic, Hitchcock-type storytelling, constantly threatening to show you what's in the bag rather than actually doing it. Vague descriptions and the reader's fear of the unknown do most of the dirty work to produce spine-ascending chills at regular intervals.

If I had any complaints about Niceville, it would have to be the inconsistent characterization. Including 21 fully fleshed-out characters could result in a tome more usable as a murder weapon  than reading material, but several characters feel like rushed, two-dimensional, caricatured plot devices more than actual people. Though Stroud's prose makes them fun nonetheless, switching from the more fully-realized characters to flatter characters was sometimes jarring enough to break my immersion in the book. Despite weighing in at over 400 pages, Stroud’s pacing is brisk enough that hours can pass in a blur while the reader investigates the labyrinthine events of his yarn.

Niceville is an inventive little gumbo of classic narrative elements, strung together in a way that’s creative enough to satisfy even the most cynical of readers. Events and people gradually form a complex web, like clues a crime investigator might pin on a bulletin board and connect with red yarn, stringing you along from one chapter to another. You’ll soon find yourself another 150 pages in and wondering where the time has gone. Well-paced, wittily written, and meticulously thought out, Niceville is definitely worth a look for any fans of horror, noir, comedy, or just plain good writing.

- Vincent Smith

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek over at The Rogue's Gallery.    

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