The Man from Primrose Lane

The Man from Primrose Lane, by James Renner, starts out as a well-done, if garden-variety, crime novel (burned-out true-crime writer delves into a local cold case and rediscovers his passion for his work as well as a host of local secrets). But just when it’s starting to settle in to investigative mode, it starts to show hints of something much weirder. On the one hand, there are Haruki-Murakami-esque touches: an allusion to the quantum physics of time travel here, a few uncanny doppelgangers there, a mysterious robot. On the other hand, there’s Michael-Koryta or even Dean-Koontz-like dips into the fringes of horror: mysterious frog-creatures, an evil spirit hovering over a box containing an executed killer’s personal effects. It encompasses trial testimony and investigative journalism and a spookily precocious kid, and when it starts to tip over into full-blown science fiction territory, it should all just dissolve into a soupy, soapy mess. But somehow, it doesn’t—the pace of the investigation keeps moving just fast enough to not allow you to think too hard, and although Renner is definitely playing on the border of all kinds of genre cliches, he’s also mixing them thick and fast enough that they always play out in ways slightly askew from what convention would expect.  A very odd, sometimes unsatisfying, but definitely intriguing read.

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