My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Carsten Stroud’s The Homecoming (Knopf 2013) is the second in the Niceville trilogy. It picks up where Niceville left off, with our hero Nick Kavanaugh, called in when a flock of crows brings down a private jet of Chinese nationals by mucking up their engines. Nick is already knee deep in a dozen other police problems (many carried over from the first novel), including the disappearance of his father-in-law, several mysterious deaths, and a bank robbery no one can solve. To add to the confusion, his wife Kate is guardian for a ten-year-old orphaned boy who comes to live with them–and brings with him a whole new set of ghosts, voices, and personal agendas. As Nick wades through the clues, the only thread he can find to explain everything that has happened is supernatural forces preying on his quiet sun-dappled community.
Let me stop here: I don’t ordinarily go for paranormal, and before Niceville, Carsten Stroud didn’t write that type of book. I got interested in Stroud through his military novels--Cuba Strait and Cobraville–so was excited to find a new novel by him. He didn’t so much change genres as create a new sub-category of ‘paranormal thriller’. If I were interested in that genre, there’s no one better to write it than Stroud. He has a light-hearted approach (“Speaking of painful, he was aware of Deitz looming at his shoulder, smelling lemony fresh” and “In short, from the ground up, he looked pretty damn good, like a designer refrigerator or like one of those retired NFL linebackers who get jobs as halftime commentators on Fox and CBS–hyper-snazzy in a vaguely alarming way”), a down-to-earth believability even of the unbelievable. Plus–and this may be the most important element–the ghosts and goblins in no way rule the plot; there are lots of ‘regular’ thriller/mystery pieces to keep the story moving along the traditional genre tracks. In his competent hands, this blending of two genres works. Consider this quote at the beginning of the novel:
“Among the dead, there are those who still have to be killed.”
Who could not keep reading after that?
The setting is the southern town of Niceville, a slow-moving, friendly place where most people know most everyone. Stroud recreates this tight, got-your-back community expertly with dialogue, descriptive detail, and chapter titles like ‘Zero to Sixty in Four Point Three is Good but Sixty to Zero in One is Not’. Every character Stroud introduces fits perfectly, and there are many. If you didn’t meet them in the first book, you might feel overwhelmed by the volume of people it takes to move this plot along. If you read Niceville first, you’ll be OK. In fact, Stroud often refers to events covered in the first book. Yes, he tries to explain them, but it’s a complicated plot with lots of twists and turns and murders and oddities. Consider:
“Plus remember that guy, the guy who found out Twyla’s dad was taking pictures of her in the shower, got ahold of them and emailed them to Twyla?”
Yeah, I do, from the first book. There’s a lot of backstory that adds a ton of color to the story. If all you get is that one sentence, you might be left shaking your head.
Don’t let my whining discourage you from buying this book. Stroud is a top notch story teller. I’ll be reading Part III.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular 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 and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.