When I found that the backdrop for this novel is “small-town America”; one of my least favourite places, my heart sank. My heart sank even further when I found that narrative was liberally sprinkled with profanity. I am however very glad I persevered, for this is an outstanding work with powerful storytelling that leads to a shocking climax.
The story begins with Jess reporting to Jim, the Officer investigating the disappearance of her three-year-old son, Harry. She was watching him on the screen of her baby-alarm monitor, when suddenly he wasn’t there, and in his place, she saw a grinning face; one of a clown.
The thread running through the story is (of course) the search for the little Harry, but being set in “small town America”, naturally everyone knows everyone. Diversity is the operative word, as the cast of characters are far too many to list, but the variety of differing religions and races [including an Englishman] give it an edge. All the characters have a part to play in the search, even if only a marginal one. There’s Jess, Jim, Jared, and Jerry to start with. Nearly everyone has a secret. Jerry is freakishly large and fat, with an unbroken child’s voice and lives with his equally, rotund and demanding mother [who works in the local Photo store]. Jared hasn’t been in the town long, and keeps changing jobs and moving on. Jess’s husband, Michael, has walked out on her, and she is desperate for support. I could go on, but the mystery lies in the characters that populate this mystery, and a sense of humour that provides light to this dark tale.
Every now and then, there is a hint, possibly helpful, possibly deliberate misdirection. With the vast array of characters, all well delineated there is also a sense of dread and fear which all leads to an unexpected and shocking dénouement, one that I defy any reader to second guess.
The story is told so cleverly, twisting the strands together that I found myself stunned when I reached ‘The End’.