Monday, June 04, 2012

Book Review - Niceville by Carsten Stroud

Carsten Stroud
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
400 pages
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0307700957


     Buried in Niceville is something evil… and the harvest is coming.

     Carsten Stroud is probably not a name that immediately comes to mind when discussing horror or dark-suspense stories. In fact, he’s probably most well-known for his politically-driven, suspenseful mystery novels than for anything else. However, Mr. Stroud has found a way to channel all the coolest (read darkest and weirdest) parts of modern horror into one ominous place, Niceville. Stroud’s everyman style and the murky content of Niceville will inevitably elicit comparisons to Stephen King, Clive Barker, or Graham Masterton and while this happens quite often when authors cross into the horror genre it’s totally justified in this instance, and, for good reason. While their styles are complimentary and very similar (smart-mouthed characters and irreverent dialogue backed by an eerie premise) Stroud manages to incorporate elements of Southern Gothic, ghost-realms, Quentin Tarantino-like characters, bloody gun-battles, American Indian folklore, paranormal mystery, and some of the nastiest, most flawed antagonists you’ll ever come across in modern, dark fiction. It’s an outlandish combination, to be sure, but it all works and works quite well, in my estimation.

     I have to admit that to me Niceville read very much like a Stephen King novel. Quickly paced, easy to read, and journeyman in approach much of Niceville’s horror is found “off page,” by which I mean it’s left somewhat to our own imaginations (especially when moving through the realms where the dead reside or when the living are murdered.) And my imagination can, when pushed just right, conjure more horrifying images than could ever be written, something that King has done perfectly for many years and that Stroud has tapped into.

     With a name like Niceville you might immediately think of a sociable, idyllic village with friendly neighbors, an antiquated town-square, award winning rose bushes, and fun-filled, summer parades. You couldn’t be more wrong. Niceville is a very dark place. Children have disappeared at an alarming rate there which has the distinction of having the highest rate of stranger abduction in the country. When a security camera catches the most recent abduction it only fuels the mystery. One moment Rainey is there, on camera. The next he’s simply vanished. When he’s found alive in a sealed crypt the confusion deepens. Who, or what, is abducting the children of Niceville and why? And, what does a high-profile bank robbery, 80 years of disappearances, and a black lake at the edge of town have to do with each other? When you enter Niceville you’ll find out.

     There’s a grocery list of characters in Niceville and the story moves from many of their perspectives, sometimes rather abruptly, and while that is slightly confusing and a little interruptive it bears mentioning that Stroud reels all the characters in together nicely as the story progresses and delivers a neat, tightly-woven climax that does not disappoint. While the numerous characters may seem a drawback to some I rather enjoyed the weaving together of the many characters, especially since Stroud brought them all together in a surprisingly satisfying (and spine-tingling) ending.

     If you like Southern Gothic, Stephen King, imaginative horror, larger-than-life characters, or dark suspense then I recommend Niceville for you.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Carsten Stroud Web page

Official Niceville Site

Niceville Sample Chapter

Niceville Amazon Page

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