Tuesday, March 1, 2011
My World Is A Flood
The Night Season by Chelsea Cain is the fourth entry in a series that quickly became somewhat of an obsession for me. I also think, as mesmerizing as her first three books were, that this latest succeeds on a certain level that the previous three did not. In short? This baby has crossover appeal stamped all over it.
Serial killer Gretchen Lowell is behind bars, and Detective Archie Sheridan is back to work. Right now that means dealing with the bodies that are washing up all over Portland, Oregon. The rains have come, and the Willamette River is rising. People get stupid around water, so the first three bodies were chalked up to accidental drownings. It's when a fourth body turns up at a local amusement park (perched on the carousel!) that the medical examiner discovers all four victims have identical puncture wounds. These people were dead before they hit the water.
Meanwhile, plucky girl reporter Susan Ward has written a story on an old skeleton that turned up along the river. She thinks it's linked to Vanport, an entire town that was wiped out by a flood in 1948. Of course uncovering that story is, at the moment, a bit difficult. Nobody seems all that interested in identifying "Ralph" (as she's taken to calling the remains) when there are four fresh bodies, the rising flood waters, and a psycho going around poisoning people with some mysterious toxin.
One thing I think Cain does exceedingly well with her books is that she's an expert at writing "urgency." There is nothing more depressing (or more boring), in my opinion, than a slow as mud suspense novel. Traditional mysteries are one thing - something promising the reader thrills and chills another entirely. The flood angle to the plot certainly feeds into the urgency of this story, and churns up the pace to feverish in many spots.
What I especially liked about this story is that Cain seems to be propelling her characters forward. Writing a series is hard, and where many writers stumble (I think) is that their characters either stagnate, or they morph into pod people because the author gets bored. Archie is still eff'ed up, but he seems less seriously eff'ed up than he was in the previous books. He's moving on....slowly. Susan is still plucky and persistent, but she's having fewer too-stupid-to-live moments as the series progresses (thank you sweet baby Jesus).
I say this could be Cain's Crossover Book because she downshifts to a lower gear this go around. The first three books got progressively darker, and more graphic, as time marched on. I have an extremely high tolerance to gory bits in the genre, but even I had to set Evil At Heart down at times and just....walk away for a few minutes. On a gore level? Well, there really isn't any in The Night Season. Oh sure, you have a bad guy. And oh sure, you have dead bodies. But there's less blood and guts floating around. Also, as much as I adore the Gretchen Lowell character, the author has to be careful with her. You keep trotting a serial killer out over and over again, pretty soon it strains so badly that the reader is screaming, "Oh c'mon now! Really?!?!" This book is 98% devoid of Gretchen's presence. In previous books even when she wasn't "on page," her presence was hanging over the story like a black cloud. Here? Well, she's just not here. And you know what? That's OK.
In some respects I think first time readers can almost start with this book, although that said - they shouldn't expect a lot of nitty-gritty character development. Hey, it's a series - and Cain's methodology so far seems to be peeling her characters back like layers of an onion. Newcomers will get a good suspense story here, and they'll find the people interesting - but they also shouldn't expect a dissertation on them.
As for me, while the suspense thread can be construed as a little....well....out there, Cain keeps it lively, interesting, and bizarre enough to keep me flipping the pages. The first time I read this story I positively tore through it. The second time I read it I was just as interested, and heck I knew where the story was headed. I enjoy suspense novels that leave me with that breathless feeling. An anticipation that starts in the pit of my stomach and slowly works it's way up to my throat as I turn each page. Cain continues to deliver that feeling for me with each subsequent book in this series. Now....when's the next one?
Final Grade = B+