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A debut novel of murder, sexual intrigue and revenge that deliberately channels Hamlet.

Jesse Matson tells his story in retrospect. Ten years before, his father, Harold, seemed to have killed himself while hunting with Jesse—at least suicide was ruled the official cause of death—but Jesse is suspicious. Shortly before this incident his father, mayor of the town of Battlepoint, Minn., and owner of the Valhalla restaurant, had made the controversial decision to use a budget surplus to provide low-income housing for workers, housing that was supposed to go on land currently occupied by a trailer park. This plan threatened the tenuous position of Harold’s wastrel brother, Clay, the manager of a turkey-processing plant with connections to the trailer park. Clay has nursed a grudge against Harold, who stole away Genevieve, his high-school girlfriend, and later married her. Jesse suspects that Clay is behind Harold’s death, a suspicion confirmed when Jesse sees the ghost of his father appearing across a frozen lake. The ghost echoes the advice Old Hamlet gives his son, “ ‘I didn’t shoot myself…You have to believe me’ ” and “ ‘[D]on’t tell your mother.’ ” From here the plot is set in motion, with Jesse trying to find evidence that will incriminate Clay in the death of Harold. Jesse confides in Christine, a kind of Hispanic Ophelia, and also in his Horatio-like friend Charlie. At one point Jesse even confronts his mother in the attic sauna, a hothouse closet scene. Perhaps the biggest deviation from Shakespeare’s play lies in the fact that Jesse lives to tell his story—and even Ophelia survives.

A large part of the diversion here involves our anticipation of what Enger will do next to echo Hamlet.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-316-00694-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2008