My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The town that is the setting for Carsten Stroud’s Niceville (Alfred A Knopf 2012) is anything but. On the surface, it’s sleepy, safe, small town America, but one scratch and you expose a tawdry underside where its vile secrets are slowly–over generations–tearing the place apart.
Niceville is the story of an easy-going layback town with a fifty year string of murders/disappearances/deaths that comes to a head when first a teenage boy disappears, then his mother, and then, well, more townspeople. It takes some digging on the part of Nick Cavanaugh, a transplant to Niceville by marriage and still wondering if he made the right decision, to uncover that these mysterious happenings center around the main families in the town, one of which includes Nick’s wife. The drama takes off from there.
I must say, I was thrilled to see another book by Carsten Stroud. I read everything he published (Black Water Transit, Cobraville, Deadly Force to name a few) and suddenly, there was nothing. I have no idea why he stopped writing, but when Niceville showed up, I grabbed it, sure it would be the dynamically-written prose and dramatic characters of old. It is, but be ready Stroud fans: Niceville is nothing like his other books. He displays his mastery at getting into his plot as he morphs his writing style from the dramatic pace and sound of a book like Deadly Force to the slow-moving sleepiness of a Southern world steeped in history and small-town attitudes, where everyone knows everything about everyone. I have never seen a writer so radically adapt his voice to his plot as what Stroud did here. It’s clever, almost humorous without the jokes, and completely in sync with the spirit of Niceville.
“Alf, a sharp old file, picked up on Nick’s mimicry and gave him a censorious frown, which Nick somehow managed to withstand.”
Tell me this next snippet doesn’t put you into the cozy comfort of a tight-knit town:
“The two-way radio in Coker’s pocket started to buzz, like a palmetto bug in a bottle. Coker was down deep inside himself, trying to see it all unfold.”
Stroud continues to wrap the reader in this lay-back feel by naming the chapters after what happens in them–“Nick and Kate Wake Up to Storms”, “Coker and Danziger Complicate Things”. I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a novel. It’s clever and effectively keeps me in the old-fashioned, other-world mood throughout the book.
I will say, it takes a while to figure out who the main characters are, so many does Stroud introduce. All have their own vignette sort of introduction with no effort to indicate who the good guys and bad guys are (you can draw conclusions. I decided the mass murderers were bad guys, but by the end of the book, I wasn’t so sure). Me–as the reader–I found it hard to tell, especially since so many characters shared the same amount of facetime. I see the value of a Kindle book in situations like this: There, I could search for the character’s name and see what he did in prior scenes. As it was, I had to search my often-inadequate memory. It didn’t help that Stroud did a bit too much head-hopping. I’d think I was listening to one person talk and find out it was someone else entirely.
Overall, a wonderful read. Carsten Stroud continues to be the master storyteller. No wonder someone as talented as Elmore Leonard called this a ‘great read’. Mr. Stroud, welcome back.
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and four ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.