(2014) Edgar Cantero, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, 353pp, ISBN 978-0-091-95647-9
This is Edgar Cantero's third novel and the only one published in English. Praise must be given to the Spanish national for his use of location and history, as its faultless.
The book is primarily a gothic murder mystery where the two main protagonists (A and Niamh) are travelling to US from the UK; after A is informed that he has inherited a house from the passing of a distant and extended relative. Set mostly in the Axton Wells House in Virginia in the mid-nineties.
The locations are described in expressive detail. The Axton Wells House becomes a primary character throughout the book, for a story so complex this is a testament to the writer.
The main character, A, is a hard character to picture because of the lack of information on him and the story told loosely from his perspective. Niamh on the other hand is a much more rounded character; she is full of spirit and young vibrancy without the typical pitfalls associated with females in fiction aimed at young adults. This is refreshing. She is also mute and semi-punk. Occasionally it is unclear how old she is, in some parts she comes across as clearly adult. Yet in other parts she is recognised as a kid. This makes her and A's relationship difficult to comprehend. They act like a married couple but are more like siblings, and could be secretly in love with one another. Some of the other characters come across as stereotypes.
The change of narration, the use of articles, transcripts and diary entries throughout is jarring and sometimes confusing. Cantero is experimenting with the form here and it is a little difficult to get used to. The articles while grounding the key plot points; to broaden the mystery, did deter from the main story and seemed to dispel a lot of the supernatural elements.
With regards to this supernatural part; it is there but drip fed, that is until three quarters of the way through. By this point if you've persevered; the ending is the most exciting part of the book and the twist is something unexpected. This was the only time I emotionally responded to the story.
Cantero does show his knowledge and the book is littered with references to ancient poets, books, painters, writers and philosophers. The plot is unique and full of cryptography, clues and puzzles for the reader to decipher, in a sense trying to make its own mark as a mixture of genres. Overall I had hoped it would be Arthur Conan Doyle meets Cluedo meets Guillermo del Toro but it never quite reaches those heights. Cantero does manage to weave a gothic mystery, but it still leaves you somewhat unsatisfied as certain puzzles remain unsolved.
Cantero has mentioned the prospects of a sequel but not anytime soon. First time readers may need to prepare themselves for the disjointed style they will encounter.
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