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The Reckoning
by Carsten Stroud
Vintage Books, $15.95, 464pp
Published: August 2015

This is what sucked me in:  On the cover, Stephen King tells us "In my mind, Niceville has earned a place with some of the great destinations in the Land of Make Believe, like Middle Earth, Narnia, and Arkham.” 

In my mind? No.  Niceville is Stroud’s version of Castle Rock, Maine.  Abel Teague replaces Leland Gaunt as the evil instigator in this small town, which feels to me like Louisiana with its plantations and old southern families and memories of the war.  In no way would I compare it to the fantastic and magical lands of Middle Earth or Narnia.  I do see some parallels of Arkham’s dark history:  the people of Niceville accept, as a fact of life, the unexplained disappearances of its citizenry for 200 years.  I am an avid Stephen King fan, but alas, in his review of this book, he has led me astray. 

This third book in the Niceville Trilogy begins with one paragraph on the historical evil that resides in Niceville and jumps right into a twisted and horrific murder mystery.  A family slaughtered; the prime suspect a juvenile delinquent trapped in a collapsed ancient water utility tunnel; the strange crackling sound that interferes with radio transmissions; the whispers that become words if you listen too well:  it has all the makings of a well-written, descriptive, riveting, and spooky tale!

But, this wasn’t an easy read for me.  Fractured by a mix of other storylines and so many characters, each part of this story would build up my interest, then abruptly stop leaving me hanging and dissatisfied.  To begin another chapter and another unrelated, yet interesting story that builds to a crescendo and… stops.   And another.  And then you pick up the cliffhanger again three or four chapters later.  At each stopping point I wanted to read more!  But the next chapter was somewhat disappointingly unrelated.  Like a book of short stories, this “ending” was the stopping point to go make dinner, or throw in a load of laundry.  Even halfway through the book, I had a hard time remembering who was who and what part they played, maybe because they weren’t well enough developed, maybe because I didn’t understand where they fit in, or maybe because I didn't care enough about them.   

Carsten Stroud is a good and descriptive writer à la King.  The Reckoning initially felt like a good standalone read.  Perhaps reading the first two books in the Niceville trilogy before would have made me feel less vague and more personally involved.  Sadly, I didn’t find it interesting enough to want to go back and do that now.  ~~ Marie Davis

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