Author: J. Robert Lennon
Genre: Thriller, mystery
First Line: "In the late winter of 2006, I returned to my home town and bought 612 acres of land in the far western edge of the country."
Recommended for: People who like a lot of build-up with no payoff
J. Robert Lennon's new novel, Castle, is at times chilling, and at other times preposterous.
Its protagonist, Eric Loesche, is a peculiar sort. Hostile, judgmental and boastful, he speaks formally and seems to have no social grace to speak of. After moving back to his hometown in Upstate New York, where he purchases an abandoned house that sits on 612 acres of wooded land, he rebukes every attempt at polite or friendly conversation by the curious townspeople, behaving aggressively toward them without provocation. In addition, he becomes preoccupied to the point of obsession with a small tract of land in the middle of his own that apparently belongs to an anonymous owner.
Yet, while Loesche isn't an easy character to like, he's an intriguing one -- at first. The first two-thirds of the book tell a tale of pervasive isolation, and Eric's story builds slowly, but frighteningly. Every time Eric was disconcerted by a keening whine coming from somewhere in his empty house, I was, too; when he felt twinges of paranoia while tromping through his oddly silent wood, so did I. The tension, at times, was palpable. It was enough to keep this reader enthralled ... for awhile.
Sadly, by the last third of the book, things start to fall apart. I can't go into much detail for fear of spoiling readers, but suffice it to say that it's almost as though it branches off into three separate stories: the original, plus two more -- none of which are melded together well enough to make one, cohesive story.
Additionally, things I was willing to overlook at first, suddenly became even more intolerable. For one thing, Lennon's far too in love with his own voice and is unnecessarily verbose where he doesn't need to be. For another, he's not as good a writer as he seems to think. His repetition of various phrases is obnoxious, to say the least. I can't count the number of sentences that began with, "It would be blank to say..." or "It was with blank that I...," and his use of "doubt," "doubtless," and "without a doubt" was enough to make me want to strike the word from my own vocabulary for life!
All in all, this is a promising, but ultimately uneven and disappointing outing for J. Robert Lennon. I would suggest a trip to the library, and not a purchase.