There are strange goings-on in the little Hudson River town of Arnold Falls, where many of the denizens are also a bit odd.
In Suisman’s second novel about Arnold Falls, the first characters readers meet are Jeebie Walker and Will Shaffer, a gay couple who exude good will and curiosity. The audience views the story mostly through Jeebie’s eyes. Readers are quickly introduced to some other players, such as the curmudgeonly Judge Harschly (the author loves puns); Marvin the Hobo, hired as the town’s resident hermit; Bridget Roberts; Mayor Jenny and her adopted Haitian son, Wilky; Fayette de la Nouille; the ancient but still active Aunt Doozy; and a raft of others. And a plot—make that the main plot—slowly emerges. Objects around town have disappeared. This includes Bridget’s Martha Washington mobcap, the illuminated Schlitz sign from the Elks Club, Judge Harschly’s gavel, a vintage Princess phone, and the statue of the town’s “founder,” Hezekiah Hesper. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for these heists; most of the items have only sentimental value, if that. There is also a crew in town filming a TV series called Merryvale(that’s where Fayette comes in), a search for the rules of gumball, a slightly downsized version of baseball, and a demonstration of kulning,the ancient Swedish technique for calling the cows home. Oh, and in a desperate bid for fame—and money—the town agrees to change its name to Emollimax for six months. But the thief is eventually outed, an embezzlement scheme at the local hospital is unearthed and the culprits arrested, and serenity returns to Emollimax or, rather, Arnold Falls (which, by the way, does not have any waterfalls).
Suisman is clearly enjoying himself in this very leisurely paced and sprawling novel. Technically, the entertaining tale is probably a mystery, but instead of the standard fare of violence and dread, the best the author can come up with is low-level anxiety and befuddlement. No one even suffers a scratch. What will also strike readers is all the dialogue. Suisman’s characters just love to talk, whether it is gossip or ruminations on some perplexing mystery over a glass of wine or a stein of Clagger, the local brew. These are very laid-back people, but they’re also ecologically and socially conscious, whether it be looking out for friends—how is Wilky adjusting to his new life and his new mother? Just fine, thank you. Or searching for endangered species, like the northern cricket frog. Jeebie even turns a farm into an animal sanctuary called Fridstöck. And the author loves the odd fact. Readers will tie themselves to Wikipedia to verify things like lightning splitter architecture, Pepper’s Ghost, and a witch’s staircase. (Kulningis a real thing, incidentally.) The writing is clever, and readers get vivid character details, whether it be the cranky but good-hearted Judge Harschly or the sensitive Jeebie, who falls half in love with a cow and is always a bit on edge over his relatively new relationship with Will (he needn’t be). In this sequel, Suisman has again staked out Arnold Falls and a delightful cast. It is a safe bet that readers will be returning soon to the colorful town.
A witty and engaging read for those who savor quirky mysteries and likable characters.