In West Akron, there lived a reclusive elderly man who always wore mittens, even in July. He had no friends and no family; all over town, he was known only as the Man from Primrose Lane. And on a summer day in 2008, someone murdered him.
Four years later, David Neff is a broken man. The bestselling author of a true-crime book about an Ohio serial killer, Neff went into exile after his wife’s inexplicable suicide. That is, until an unexpected visit from an old friend introduces him to the strange mystery of “the man with a thousand mittens.” Soon Neff finds himself drawn back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. But the closer he gets to uncovering the true identity of the Man from Primrose Lane, the more he begins to understand the dangerous power of his own obsessions and how they may be connected to the deaths of both his beloved wife and the old hermit.
With a deft and singular blend of suspense, literature, and horror, The Man from Primrose Lane boasts as many twists and turns as a roller coaster. It’s a spellbinding journey of redemption and a reflection on the roles of fate, destiny, and obsession when it comes to matters of the heart.
I have two things to say about this book before I delve into a full blown review. The first is that, (regardless of how overused and cliché it is to say this), this story is so completely and utterly unlike anything I have ever read before. Ever. And I doubt I’ll ever read anything that comes close to it ever again.
The second thing is that I only finished it 3 days ago and I already want to read it again. All of it. From the beginning. It’s honestly THAT good.
If you don’t want any spoilers, or you don’t believe me, or you think I’m over-exaggerating, stop reading now, get hold of this book, devour it, and then come and tell me you don’t feel the same. This is my 2013 challenge to you.
Getting into the nitty-gritty, but not so far as to give away spoilers, The Man From Primrose Lane is a genre-bending SF/Crime/Horror/Fantasy crossover, bulging with enough twists and turns to fill an entire series and a plot brilliant enough to weep over. Starting off as an old fashioned thriller and barrelling at a rate of knots towards a fabulously futuristic SF ending, this book traverses obsession, murder, depression, fate, punishment, philosophy, and the uncontrollable nature of consequence. The crime elements are extremely factually descriptive and nauseatingly convincing, with main character David Neff – a journalist, writer and self-created private investigator – being privy to all the horror inducing details that accompany a grisly murder bound up with the sickening fantasies of a child sex offender.
David is obsessed with the kidnapping of his wife’s sister Elaine when the two of them were still children, and blames this event for his wife’s recent untimely suicide. He begins to see parallels between Elaine’s disappearance and the case files of some other kidnappings that have happened intermittently from then until the present day; notably that all the victims were female, pale skinned, ginger haired, and around the age of 12. While investigating these coincidences, David is approached and asked to look into the murder of an old man who lived alone, a seemingly unrelated crime – but it’s not long before David discovers the fate of the kidnapped children, the suicide of his wife Elizabeth, and the death of this man from Primrose Lane are undeniably linked, in unnerving and almost impossible ways that are beyond rational expectation.
If this was the whole of the plot, it’d be a fantastic novel left as it is. A classic whodunit with modern twists, despicable characters, clever narrative and suspense-filled action. Renner really manages to get inside your head as a reader; with such an emotionally charged story it is impossible not to be sucked into David’s life and experience the horrors and trauma that he encounters. However, as I mentioned above, this isn’t just a crime novel. The twist appears about half-way through with as much subtlety as a truck barraging at 100 miles an hour into your living room; with the resultant feelings being much the same as if that did happen. In being a long-time fan and reader of mystery and crime novels, it is rare that I am so completely and utterly blind-sided as I was reading The Man From Primrose Lane. Just when you think you know what the story’s about, you suddenly find yourself reading a book you didn’t sign up for, a book you had no idea was going to be in your hands. You’re taken from a rather familiar premise, as well written as it is, and thrown head first into a world that makes no sense outside of its own parameters, a world that you could not possibly have seen coming. Crime meets SF and produces something weird, wacky and inherently brilliant.
Despite this introduction of a fantastical element, of whose nature I obviously won’t be revealing, the story remains believable and, although a little confusing to follow at times, perfectly in line with the previous wholly realistic events. This is mind-bending complexity at its best – I’ve heard some reviews say it creates an ‘easy ending’ for the crimes featured, but I prefer to take a different opinion, that it bridges multiple genres in order to provide something utterly different to anything firmly inside any of them; it experiments with itself and provides something you won’t have tried before. If you wanted a ‘typical’ crime fic ending, there are hundreds upon thousands of published detective novels. This one challenges you to accept that typical endings aren’t always the most satisfying.
I feel this review is rather short on plot, but I really don’t feel I can add in much more detail without giving anything away – I hadn’t read any reviews before reading the book, just the press release and blurb sent with my copy, and I’m glad about this. In my opinion, if you’re going to read a book that delves into the unknown, the less you know about what you’re going to find, the better!
What I hope I have got across is how much you really really should want to do that. The Man From Primrose Lane is a wicked book, haunting, clever, funny and incredible. Dark and demanding, this story will beg for your time until you’ve finished it, you’ll never want to put it down, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to start it again immediately after you’re done to see if you can pick up on all the hidden hints a second time round. This book is going to hit the world in the face when it gets released in January, and deservedly so. It’s unashamedly unique, vivid, horrible, and addictive, and I hope that James Renner takes ownership of his newly created niche and releases more in the same mould. Soon. Until then, I’ll just read The Man From Primrose Lane over and over again.
If you get money or book tokens for Christmas, save them a few weeks and then buy this. You won’t regret it.
**The Man From Primrose Lane is due for publication in the UK on 17 January 2013 by Constable & Robinson, an imprint of Corsair Books. I received no payment for this review, only a copy of the book in exchange for my fair and honest thoughts.**