The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

15808328Nurse Spandex was late, and as she broke into a run her rubber-soled clogs went squeak-squeak on the floor of the hallway leading to labor and delivery.

What it’s about: The Burn Palace begins with a maternity nurse discovering that one of the newborns in her care has disappeared and has been replaced by a six-foot corn snake, and it just gets wilder from there. Dobyns brings in a huge case of characters, residents of the fictional small town of Brewster, Rhode Island, as well as renegade coyotes, mysterious Satanists and a rampaging lunatic to terrify them all. But at the heart of a story is a mystery, and State Trooper Woody Potter doggedly pursues the solution while reminding us that it’s all about the baby.

Why I liked it: Dobyns juggles his cast of characters gracefully, giving us readers time to get to know the various cops, kids, town characters and even dogs that populate Brewster, so we can better care about their safety as things start ramping up. His omniscient narrator relates the story with a folksy voice, almost as if he’s sitting beside us and whispering in our ear. The petty politics and soap opera-like relationships of small-town life gradually take on sinister undertones as the plot unravels. It became very difficult to put the book down once all the pieces start whirling together.

This was a fun and thrilling read. For me, the only major flaw was the hint of magical realism, never fully explained or incorporated fully into the overall story. But that is more than made up for by Dobyns’ characters, setting, and audacious plot.

Who might like it: Fans of small-town tales with a dark underbelly, such as by Stephen King.

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