Niceville by Carsten Stroud (Knopf, June 2012)-Niceville is a lovely little southern town. No matter if there have been a number of unexplained disappearances over the last hundred years or so. So many that they top the national average by quite a bit, in fact. Surely, though, it’s an anomaly, nothing to be too concerned about, right? When a young boy, Rainey Teague, disappears on his way home from school, however, it seems to kick off something very powerful, possibly even ancient. Rainey Teague was adopted by one of the descendants of the four founding families of Niceville (pssst, those founding families are important), and his disappearance sends his adoptive father and mother into a tragic tailspin. A year later, Rainey is found, in an impossible place, alive, but soon he’s unresponsive. His care has been transferred to Kate Kavenaugh, a family practice lawyer, and she’s made sure to take very good care of the estate he’s inherited from his family. Her husband, detective Nick Kavanaugh is there when Rainey is found, and can find no explanation as to how Rainey ended up in such an odd, and seemingly impossible place. Meanwhile, during a local bank robbery, officers in pursuit of the thieves are killed, execution style, in what, to Nick’s eyes, can only be an inside job, but soon the robbers’ well laid plans will begin to fall apart. It is Niceville, after all. Soon, more people begin to disappear, and the citizens of Niceville will begin to see their lives laid bare for all to see, and long held secrets will come to light in the most terrifying ways.
Niceville is the newest offering from writer Carsten Stroud, with the sequel, The Homecoming, hitting shelves tomorrow, and what an offering! The narrative goes back and forth between the main players, making for a riveting reading experience, although I found myself wanting to get back to Nick and/or Kate more often than not, since they’re central to the story and also characters that I easily became attached to. Nick is a recent war vet who adores Kate but still feels the restlessness that can sometimes come with civilian life after active duty. He’s a good man, but a hard man, and has no compunction about punishing criminals outside of the job if he thinks they’ve gotten away with something (sort of like Dexter, but without the death part.) Kate is a tough lawyer who recently won full custody for a client whose ex-husband is a very bad man, and who ends up being an important part of the story. Although Niceville is a cracking thriller with plenty of supernatural intrigue, the highlight for me was the dialogue. Carsten Stroud has a gift for it, and he also creates fleshed out, flawed, and very human characters, even if there’s some not so human characters running around. I was fascinated by the bad guys, and their motivations, even if their actions were pretty heinous. One thing is for sure, Niceville seems to have a certain effect on its residents, and while a few things are wrapped up at the end, it’s wide open for The Homecoming. Fans of crime fiction with supernatural elements will love this, and it actually reminded me of Stephen Dobyns’ work from time to time. Niceville is a rocket paced, creepy, and sometimes unsettling read. Good thing The Homecoming comes out tomorrow, cause after Niceville, you’ll want to dive right in!