Thriller author Stroud returns to the eerie Southern town of Niceville, where plantation-era ghosts abound, gunplay is routine, and genres tend to morph and merge.
For the sprawling second book in his trilogy, Stroud (Niceville, 2012) again strives to find the place where noir, thriller and paranormal fiction intersect. Detective Nick Kavanaugh is investigating a bank robbery that appears to have involved his brother-in-law Byron Dietz, a wife-beating horror who’s implicated in some shady activity with Chinese businessmen. Meanwhile, Nick’s wife, Kate, is caring for Deitz’s shellshocked wife and kids, as well as 10-year-old Rainey Teague, who (as detailed in the first book) has a mystical connection to a family of slavery-era reprobates. Stroud can write knockout violent set pieces: A high-speed police chase gone terribly awry; Dietz’s wild escape from custody thanks to a deer crashing into a transport bus; and a standoff in a Bass Pro Shop stocked with guns and outdoor gear. In these scenes, Stroud masters stark imagery, tough talk and street smarts, even if the cops other than Nick are relatively faceless. Where the book stumbles is in its ungainly effort to weave in plodding bits of horror and Southern history amid the crime story. Scenes involving Rainey Teague largely involve him and extended members of the Kavanaugh clan exploring an old plantation house, where Teague is possessed by “nothing,” a nefarious demon trying to extract him from adult support. As a vision of evil, a boldfaced voice in a preteen’s head isn’t especially terrifying, and, tucked as this all is in a busy plot thick with characters and historical references, its impact is weakened further still. The most clearly drawn character, in fact, is Deitz, but he’s a hard guy to root for.
A third book may resolve the tangled plot, but this one is messy and overwritten.