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THE BURN PALACE by Stephen Dobyns

THE BURN PALACE

By Stephen Dobyns

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-16087-5
Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Atmospheric New England supernaturalism from not-Stephen King, but a latter-day disciple who deservedly earns the master’s praise.

Nurse Spandex is a size-10 woman in size-two garb, but that doesn’t keep her from making a career of seducing the docs on the floor of the Rhode Island hospital at which she works. Bad idea, since one fervent night, a newborn goes missing from the incubator, with a big scary snake wriggling around in the baby’s place. Cue screaming and jiggling, for as Dobyns (Eating Naked, 2000, etc.) rightly and elegantly notes, “Surely fear is the oldest emotion. Not love, not pride, not greed. The emotion urging you to run is older than the one telling you to embrace.” True that. Woody Potter, world-weary local cop and damaged Iraq veteran, has not just the case of the substitute snake to worry about, but also that of a dead insurance agent. MacGuffins abound, but then so do red herrings: Does the key to the mystery lie with a local funeral-home denizen who has suddenly taken to communing with the coyotes and is a rather surly chap (“What the fuck would I hang a cat for?”), with the neighborhood Wiccan coven, with Ouroboros worshippers or with James Earl Jones in his Conan the Barbarian role? Well, the last doesn’t figure, but with Dobyns’ catholic approach to possibilities, he might just as well. Finally, Woody pulls together enough evidence to lead him in a different and altogether more sinister direction that, suffice it to say, may make a reader think twice about spending a night in the hospital. An utterly believable tale, and Dobyns isn’t above scaring the reader silly with surprise twists and turns.   

Nicely done—and you may never look at doctors the same way again.