Reviewed by David A. Riley
Although this is not a long book it packs a heavy punch. Set in a small town in the American backwoods, which has been in steady decline for years, most of the characters are losers whose lives have been blighted by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and by ghosts from a past that has polluted everything around them.
The main character, Dan Robertson, runs the local undertakers. Bullied since school, his half sister Grace is the bane of his life. Known as the local bike, high on whatever drugs she can get, she is a force for chaos for everyone with whom she comes into contact. Dan feels guilty that her mental problems are his fault, caused when they were young children and were attacked by a local bogeyman, Bicycle Bill. Although Dan managed to escape, Grace didnâ€™t. Mentally damaged by whatever happened while she was in his clutches, Dan has tried to distance himself from her ever since, obsessively stressing whenever she is mentioned that she is only his â€œhalfâ€ sister.
Starting with a suicide that Dan is certain was murder, every detail of the townâ€™s inhabitants is grimly described. It is the middle of winter, thick with snow and icily cold, a vivid metaphor for the state of the community. As one death leads to another, the police investigation encompasses drug peddling backwoods cultists, dysfunctional families with secrets within secrets, and a morbid supernatural menace.
Vividly depicted, the flaws and weaknesses of the various characters are remorselessly exposed. It is perhaps one of the darkest, most nihilistic novels I have ever read, a slow motion car crash whose development is a fascinating trek into the grim depths of a community blighted by something that is outside anyoneâ€™s control, a supernatural presence which uses the weaknesses of everyone it touches to spread its influence. A thoroughly enjoyable read.