Stroud wraps up his peculiar Deep South crime trilogy with a host of made men, undead men, evil spirits, and cops trying as hard as the author to hold everything together.
The third book set in the ironically named town of Niceville (Niceville, 2012; The Homecoming, 2013) opens with the police redoubling their efforts to purge the ghosts of the plantation-owning Teague family, which have sown demonic chaos locally. Rainey Teague, a 14-year-old boy seemingly recovered from possession at the end of the previous novel, has taken refuge with the family of Detective Nick Kavanaugh, but Rainey’s tossing a young boy in a river suggests all’s not well. Nick, meanwhile, has his hands full with a gruesome and inexplicable mass murder of a family, and ex-officer Charles Danziger has re-emerged from his apparent death to journey to the plantation where all this supernatural horror started. To that Stroud adds a subplot involving another cop dealing with mobsters in Florida and one mobster’s widow, Delores, using every clichéd feminine wile available to manipulate an FBI agent. Stroud’s kitchen-sink approach to plotting is almost admirably audacious, weaving in Mario Puzo, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. But the novel has the effect of random pages from each of those authors shuffled together. There are intermittent well-turned smaller scenes—Nick’s wife, Kate, confiding in their housekeeper, or Delores doting over her irksome, flatulent Chihuahua. But the overarching plot is busy and convoluted, never successfully meshing real-world bloodshed with Southern Gothic mysticism. “Maybe some kind of horrible bad evil but totally invisible demonic wasp cloud of mind-warping free-floating crazy is flying around Niceville and it drills into people’s skulls and turns them into sadistic psychokiller zombies?” a character jokingly asks. Stroud’s not joking, alas, but the story lacks the B-movie campiness such a setup deserves.
Clunky closure for a series that’s taken on too much ballast.