Mannheim Rex by Robert Pobi (Thomas & Mercer, Nov. 2012)-After the death of his wife, Chelsea, horror novelist Gavin Corlie is near suicide when he decides to move from his New York apartment to New Mannheim, 5 hours upstate. The house is gorgeous, with three chimneys and a window that looks out over Lake Caldasac. It’s also perfect for a man that is trying to escape his past, and the ghost of his dead wife. The fact that the house hasn’t been lived in for over 60 years doesn’t even put a hiccup in his plans. After all, money isn’t an object, and soon after he moves in, he finds a local handyman to get the house back up to snuff. Hopefully, Gavin will settle into his new, quiet life in the small town of New Mannheim and get some writing done, and maybe even some healing. Little does he know.
Finn Horn is 13 and confined to a wheelchair after cancer that he didn’t know he had eroded his spine until it finally collapsed when he was 10 years old. He hasn’t let his illness stop him, though. The one thing he loves to do the most is fish, and even has his own boat with a rig made especially for him that allows him to not only board the boat by himself, but also pilot the boat and fish the waters of the deep, dark Lake Caldasac (aka Dead-End Lake.) One day, while out on the water, he hears a voice call to him from the direction of the old German place, which, of course, is the house that Gavin Corlie has just purchased. Spooked, Finn turns tail and Gavin feels bad that he scared the kid, when all he wanted to do was let him know that he didn’t mind him fishing in his bay. As Finn makes his way back across the lake, Finn encounters the huge presence that occupies Lake Caldasac, and it has really big teeth.
When Gavin hears the news that Finn was nearly killed in some sort of accident, he feels partially responsible, and when he visits Finn in order to make amends, a very unusual friendship is born. Finn eventually recruits Gavin to help him find the creature that attacked his boat. Finn knows he may not have long to live, and is determined to make his mark and go out famous, and nabbing the creature that has been the cause of more than few deaths in the lake’s history is how he plans to do it.
Unfortunately, there is more than one monster in New Mannheim. When Sheriff Xavier Pope visits Gavin to question him about Finn’s “accident”, Gavin immediately gets a bad feeling about the cop, and the visit doesn’t end on a positive note. Gavin has no idea how bad it actually is.
Mannheim Rex is my first book by Robert Pobi, and it most definitely is not my last. While it is the story of a rather nasty lake monster that’s been eating tourists and the townsfolk of New Mannheim for years, what it’s really about is the friendship between Gavin and Finn. Finn is a pure delight, a little ball of strength, fearlessness, chutzpah, and smart mouth, and he teaches Gavin how to open his heart again. Speaking of opening his heart, when Finn’s doctor, Laurel, comes into his life, they begin a sweet romance that was very human, and very touching.
What isn’t very touching, or sweet, is the lovely Sheriff Xavier Pope. This guy gives Hannibal Lector a run for his money. Pope is everything you don’t want a cop to be: psychopathic, sociopathic, homicidal, and last, but certainly not least, a rapist! Oh wait, I forgot drug addict. The man pops bennies like skittles and he has a cockroach orchestra singing and dancing in his head almost constantly, cheering him on. You do not want to get on this man’s bad side. Not that he has a good side, but still, you definitely want to stay way below his radar. Unfortunately, Gavin catches his attention pretty quickly, and Pope really doesn’t need much of a reason to kill someone, ‘cause to him, it’s just all in a day’s fun. Pope adds a really interesting, and creepy, subplot to an already compelling story and serves to complicate matters very nicely. Also, you may find yourself laughing at some of his inner monologue, in spite of yourself. It’s black humor at its darkest, and lots of fun. You’ll cringe, for sure. Mannheim Rex reminds me very much, in the best way, of early Dean Koontz (in his Watchers, Strangers days), and Moby Dick references are inescapable. This is one big fish story you’ll never forget!