In the third volume of the Solitary Tales, the face of evil shows itself.
The noose is tightening on beleaguered teen Chris Buckley. Previously, he relocated from Chicago to his mother Tara’s hometown of Solitary, N.C.—a major mistake and part of the reason Tara self-medicates with alcohol. Angry and grieving at the sacrificial death of his friend Jocelyn, Chris stabbed the complicit Pastor Marsh in the chest; yet the not-so-right reverend lives on, blissfully delivering his perverted Sunday sermons. In this volume, Chris’s former employer Iris remains missing since her inn, the Crag’s Head, burned to the ground, and fellow student Oli dies from drowning, although Chris fears he was murdered for defecting from the camp of bully Gus Staunch. While attending summer school at Harrington High, Chris befriends an Atlanta transplant, lovely senior Lily, who helps him forget sweet Kelsey Page from his art class. Lily is confident, poised and definitely interested. Although he wants to be a typical teen hanging out with his gorgeous girlfriend, compassionate, conflicted Chris is disturbed by nightmarish visions of people in extreme distress, sometimes covered in blood. The dynamics of his relationship with his tippling mother aren’t making anything better—he’s more or less the parent now—yet he refuses to ask for help from his born-again-Christian dad. In this, the third of four books in the series (the final volume, Hurt, is due for release in 2013), the pacing and plotting have significantly intensified. Tension ratchets up, suggesting that a major showdown of biblical proportions is on the horizon. Several key revelations, including the truth of Chris’s heritage, begin to partially explain the strange brew that is Solitary, and some resolution is reached by novel’s end, although many unanswered questions remain. As in preceding books, Thrasher plumbs multiple layers of teenage Chris’ life: a romantic and potentially sexual relationship with Lily; the claustrophobic creepiness of his adopted hometown and the ongoing mystery of its absentee residents; patriarch Ichor Staunch, whose word is God to the locals; peculiar, pixilated Aunt Alice; and Chris’s own destiny, which intertwines with that of Solitary. At the book’s core is Chris’ escalating moral crisis (the titular “temptation”), well-illustrated by a pricey, enticing gift from the very man he most deeply distrusts. So far, the three volumes have sustained an impressive level of suspense and artfulness; the last chapter should be no different.
An engrossing, well-plotted third volume that whets the appetite for the series’ finale.