Snaedeker’s medical condition and death are mined somewhat for comedy, but they take a back seat to the drama in Owen’s life and the turmoil within the Spencers’ rocky relationship, particularly the physical abuse and mental manipulation that both Snaedeker and Bill inflict on Charlotte. Unfortunately, the stylistic choice to leave quotation marks out of dialogue (“She said, they’re chocolate, your favorite. I said no thanks”) makes it very hard to follow the events; Owen’s first-person narration blurs into his conversations with others, and scenes with multiple characters are especially difficult to untangle, greatly diminishing the tension.
Nuances of character elevate the story. Owen, a man in his “stream-dribbling sixties,” is somewhat obsessed with aging and death, a trait developed through his relationship with his 20-something girlfriend, Kjirsti, and his role as unofficial caregiver to his 92-year-old neighbor, Basha-Rose. Charlotte experiences a masochistic sexual awakening that helps her both make sense of and defy being mistreated. These complex protagonists and their interwoven narratives create a distinctive literary mystery with a bent toward the philosophical.
Takeaway: This mystery will appeal to readers who enjoy literary fiction and stories that examine the human condition.
Great for fans of Alexis Schaitkin’s Saint X, Suzanne Rindell.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A-