In Brown’s debut novel, a man must solve a mystery involving his friend in order to reset his own life.
Caleb Cross has always been envious of his best pal, Bigger Falkirk. The same things that Caleb loves about him—his kindness, his spontaneity, his lack of concern for the way the world sees him—have always made him the most popular guy in the room, resigning Caleb to the role of sidekick. But when Bigger returns from South America sickly and sans one testicle, he uncharacteristically refuses to tell anyone what happened. Caleb soon becomes frustrated by Bigger’s insistence on dodging people’s requests for the truth; instead, Bigger only offers fables of questionable veracity. There’s one story, though, that Bigger does want to talk about: something that happened years ago, when he and Caleb were still in high school—a time when Caleb “took a wrong turn.” Although Caleb must solve Bigger’s riddles to find out what happened during Bigger’s long adventure, it seems that Bigger may be trying to lead Caleb to his own epiphanies. He wants Caleb to become the sort of hero that they both read about as children in their favorite anthology of myths; as a result, it’s not just their friendship that’s at stake, but their futures. Brown deftly creates larger-than-life characters, and Bigger is particularly worthy of the novel’s mythic energy. As a writer of prose, though, Brown is more earthly. His imagery is sometimes-inelegant, but at other times, it’s inspired: “The dead horse of this particular argument had long ago been flogged into dog food.” For the most part, the novel is a lot of fun: humorous, fantastical, compelling, and mysterious. Although the reveals are never quite as satisfying as the clues, and the ending veers a bit toward the melodramatic, Brown succeeds at the very thing that Bigger is attempting to do: he makes readers remember a time in childhood when the world seemed a bit more magical.
A funny, yet earnest mystery story.