The latest comic outrage from Palahniuk (Choke, 2001, etc.) concerns a lethal African poem, an unwitting serial killer, a haunted-house broker, and a frozen baby. In other words, the usual Palahniuk fare.
Carl Streator is a grizzled City Desk reporter whose outlook on life has a lot to do with years of interviewing grief-stricken parents, spouses, children, victims, and survivors. His latest investigation is a series of crib deaths. A very good reporter, one thing he’s got is an eye for detail, and he notices that there’s always a copy of the same book (Poems and Rhymes Around the World) at the scene of these deaths. In fact, more often than not, the book is open to an African nursery rhyme called a “culling chant.” A deadly lullaby? It sounds crazy, but Carl discovers that simply by thinking about someone while reciting the poem he can knock him off in no time at all. First, his editor dies. Then an annoying radio host named Dr. Sara. It’s too much to be a coincidence: Carl needs help—and fast, before he kills off everyone he knows. He investigates the book and finds that it was published in a small edition now mainly held in public libraries, so he begins by tracking down everyone known to have checked the book out. This brings him to the office of Helen Hoover Boyle, a realtor who makes a good living selling haunted houses—and reselling them a few months later after the owners move out. A son of Helen’s died of crib death about 20 years ago, and she’s reluctant to talk to Carl until he gains the confidence of her Wiccan secretary, Mona Sabbat. Together, Carl, Helen, Mona, and Mona’s ecoterrorist/scam-artist boyfriend Oyster set out across the country to find and destroy every one of the 200-plus remaining copies of Poems and Rhymes. But can Carl (and Helen) forget the chant themselves? Pandora never did manage to get her box shut, after all.
Outrageous, darkly comic fun of the sort you’d expect from Palahniuk.