A Death Displaced by Andrew Butcher

A Death Displaced is the first novel in the Lansin Island Series by Andrew Butcher.  As a first novel, it must accomplish many goals: introduce a broad range of characters, establish the environment of the series (including setting and atmosphere), and weave an intricate plot that will take multiple novels to resolve, essentially making the story and its characters memorable enough so that readers come back for seconds.  Butcher achieves all of these goals and more; upon reaching the last page, the reader hungrily flips to the information section in a desperate attempt to find out when the next book will be released.

The reader is first introduced to Nick Crystan as he is daydreaming during a shift at Creaky Crystals – or at least he thinks it’s a daydream.  As he is standing behind the counter looking out the window, he has a strange vision of a woman being hit by a car and falling to her death right outside the shop.  He writes it off as a bizarre by-product of his meditation attempts and proceeds to deal with an irate customer who fancies herself a witch.  The reader learns from Nick’s inner thoughts that this is a common occurrence in Amiton and on Lansin Island in general.  Later on, the reader learns that centuries ago over one-hundred witches were burned at the stake and that the island has always been known for its practicing Wiccans and such.

The narrative continues with a closer look at Nick as he goes about his week after the vision.  He is twenty-four and lives alone, practicing meditation and hoping to achieve enlightenment. Nick’s mother disappeared eight years ago without warning after taking a large sum of money from her account; no one knows what happened to her and so Nick has spent his life feeling inadequate and stunted.  Then something happens that changes his outcome on life; a few days after his vivid daydream, he recognizes the events leading up to the crash and this time he pulls the woman to safety.  Even though she runs away without so much as a thank you, Nick feels energized with a sense of purpose from his premonition.

The next chapter switches to the woman’s point of view.  The reader learns that her name is Juliet Maystone and that she owns Chanton Hillview café; her parents are wealthy and have moved to Spain, giving her extravagant gifts as a substitute for their love.  After the incident in Amiton, she feels somehow disconnected from her body – she even had the sensation of actually falling to her death, but then Nick grabbed her.  Strange things start to happen: she sees hazy figures out of the corner of her eye, the temperature drops suddenly in her office, lights flicker, and she hears voices.  Worried that something is wrong with her, she seeks the advice of Tamara who claims to be a descendant of the Lansin Island witches.  Tamara tells Juliet she was meant to die that day and so her soul is in the Otherworld; she cautions her that spirits will come to her for help.

As the novel continues, the bigger picture is painted.  The reader learns that a child has gone missing, a case which is similar to one from ten years ago as well as the case of Nick’s mom.  Nick thinks fleetingly that it may all be connected, but how?  On Halloween, the story switches back to Juliet; her strange occurrences culminate in the appearance of a spirit named Samantha Crystan, who asks Juliet to find her son Nick and tell him to visit Grendel Manor to learn the truth behind her disappearance.  Finally, the connection between Nick and Juliet is cemented.

The novel is incredibly detailed; as a first book in a series, it must create characters and a storyline that readers will want to return to again and again.  Butcher definitely accomplishes this.  By the end, the reader feels a true connection not only to Nick and Juliet, but also everyone in their lives; the descriptions of their thoughts and relationships are meticulous.  As for plot, by the end of the book, the reader has an idea how all of the pieces fit together, but the mystery is far from solved.  This book is a pleasure to read, it introduces interesting concepts and characters, and leaves you wanting more!

A Death Displaced

Andrew Butcher

Copyright 2012

One Rode In by Albert Zayat

One Rode In is classified as a psychological thriller, so the reader expects an intense and complex plot; Zayat does not disappoint.  The story begins with Cal, an aging New York journalist, whose career is in jeopardy.  Cal has been tipped-off about a violent gun-fight in an upstate New York bar that was barely reported; he hopes that this will be the story that saves his career, so he decides to take a road trip and solve the mystery of what happened there.

From the very first page, the reader is privy to Cal’s thoughts and the book seems to be written as a sort of stream of consciousness – at times it seems that Cal is talking about, but also to, himself.  Cal’s journey begins in his old, beat-up car as he listens to a radio show featuring a doctor who believes people come back from the dead.  It has been stormy, so the radio’s connection is spotty and sometimes it cuts off in such a place that the radio seems to be answering Cal, which is just the beginning of the mysterious things that happen to him on his road trip and beyond.  On top of the talking radio, the gas station attendant seems to know things about Cal’s past, present, and future.  And if that is not weird enough, the map Cal has been using seem to be changing as he drives along.

After an exhausting drive, for both Cal and the reader, he arrives in the town of Fate and locates the bar in which the gunfight took place – named Destiny.  Those names alone foreshadow important events and revelations to come.  Inside the bar, Cal finds photographs of a man named Malcolm.  As he is pondering the photographs, a strange man appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and Cal begins his long journey to find out the story of Malcolm and the town of Fate.

From the start of the novel, the reader can tell that this will be an epic tale; it is the story of a man on a journey to find answers.  The premise alone creates a sense of importance – this news story is a matter of life and death for Cal’s career and maybe his legacy.  In addition, Zayat personifies certain elements, such as the thunder and lighting, which creates a sense that all details and components are important to the story.  The first chapter alone is so full of details and references to past and future events that the reader almost feels unqualified to puzzle out the mystery with Cal; sometimes the details are so muddled together that the reader has no idea what is happening and if he missed something crucial to his understanding.

This confusion may make it difficult for some readers to continue the novel until the end.  At times, it is hard to follow the plot, but the shear detail and the amazing prose are worth the extra effort.  The reader may not fully understand what is happening on a given page, but he must hold out hope that all will be revealed in time – much like Cal. The novel in itself is a mystery up until the very last chapter.  The vivid details, and the way Zayat arrives at the solution to the puzzle, engrosses the reader so deeply that most of the time he will be as lost and confused as Cal; however, in the end, this means that whatever Cal learns and however Cal grows – so shall the reader.  This novel is so rich in details and ideas that one read-through is not enough – this is the kind of novel to be read multiple times, with each time unearthing something new.

One Rode In

Albert Zayat

Copyright 2011

Bedbugs by Ben H Winters

Bedbugs is a horror novel narrated by an insomniac, unemployed mother who has anxiety problems.  Told through Susan Wendt’s impressions, the reader is never sure what is truth and what is imagined by this woman who is so influenced by media and her own insecurities.  The novel blurs the line between reality and imagination at every turn – it is not until the very last chapter that the reader learns the true story and knows who to believe.

The story begins with Susan Wendt searching for the perfect place for her family to live.  Susan has recently quit her job at a law firm to pursue her painting.  Her husband Alex makes decent money photographing jewelry and watches for a commercial company.  Their daughter Emma is a well-adjusted child who is watched by a young nanny in the mornings and early afternoon.  After months of searching, Susan has found a place that sounds too good to be true – it is a charming, two-story home in Brooklyn with a bonus room in which Susan can paint.  The house is everything they have been looking for and they can afford it; they fall in love with it on sight.  Susan even loves their landlord, an eccentric old woman named Andrea Scharfstein.  Susan and Alex decide to move in.

During the first night in the house, the reader learns that Susan is not as care-free and happy as she lets on.  After her husband and daughter are fast asleep, Susan continues to unpack because she has terrible insomnia.  She is sure that her husband resents her for not working and staying home to paint while he is stuck in a lousy job instead of taking artistic photographs, she chastises herself for not being able to paint and for wasting money on a nanny when she doesn’t work, she thinks about her mother’s untimely death…all these self-deprecating thoughts make her unable to sleep.  That first night she is sure she sees a man standing outside her daughter’s window.

Then things start to go very wrong with the house and her marriage.  Alex is stressed about work and Susan blames herself; she starts having horrible nightmares filled with blood and gore.  Susan begins to notice little problems with the house – there are cracks, loose outlet covers, uneven floorboards, and most bizarre of all – a faint pinging noise with no discernible source.  When Susan finally steps into the bonus room to paint, there is a horrendous smell and a strange photograph with a bloody fingerprint.  Andrea tells her the story of the couple who lived there before them, but something doesn’t seem right to Susan.  One day, Susan meets Louis – the elderly handyman and friend of Andrea’s – and learns that there was a tragedy in the basement and a subsequent darkening of the houses’ atmosphere.  But all of this is just the beginning of Susan’s terror-filled journey…how much is reality and how much is a product of her anxious brain? Is she losing it or is there a menace in her home?

Bedbugs is an intense and suspenseful narrative told from the perspective of a likable woman with glaring psychological issues. From the very beginning, the reader connects with Susan and feels like he truly knows her.  He wants to trust her and believe her reality, but at the same time, his objectivity is constantly questioning her perceptions.  This novel does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing – any time another clue is revealed it only adds to his confusion.  This story is a real page-turner – the reader will be hooked until the very last page!


Ben H Winters

Copyright 2011