Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

normal

He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal… and it works. Perfectly.

Then he meets the checkout girl from the 24-hour grocery. And now the plan, the hunts, the room… the others. He doesn’t need any of them anymore. He needs only her. But just as he decides to go straight, the police start to close in. He might be able to cover his tracks, except for one small problem—he still has someone trapped in his garage.

Discovering his humanity couldn’t have come at a worse time.

 

My initial reaction upon finishing: Well, that was… different.

The thing with NORMAL is that, like the main character, it takes pleasure in misleading. Giving false impressions, going off on entirely unexpected tangents. One moment it’s like Dexter, then straight-up Fowlesian, full of philosophical asides and meandering, and the next it’s dark humor in the vein of Breaking Bad before it got all dramatic and serious. Nothing turns out the way you’d expect. And while at times it was refreshing, other times it drove me crazy and I might have quit if it wasn’t such a short, dynamic read.

One thing… is that the author tends to throw his character into increasingly sticky, uh-oh, how-the-hell-is-he-going-to-get-out-of-this-one situations, only to resolve them OFF CAMERA. And it’s not just one occurrence, it happens repeatedly. Afterwards we’re either given a flimsy as-you-know-Bob explanation of how he actually got out of this one, or NOTHING AT ALL. This is such a copout, especially in a suspense novel.

Speaking of suspense. It’s not really suspenseful in the traditional sense. There’s no big mystery that will unlock the secrets of the plot and cast everything we’ve just read in a new light. There’s no big plot twist, It turned out pretty much how I thought it would about 30% in. I knew which character would snap and lead to the unraveling of everything. I knew which character would die, because it was pretty much set up to be necessary to the plot. But nonetheless, SOMETHING COMPELS YOU TO KEEP READING, like the proverbial car crash, except more entertaining, more bloody, and fictional so you don’t have to feel bad about yourself. You just can’t help but wonder how he plans on getting away with it all as everything spirals out of control. (And as I mentioned above, when you’re not given clear answers it can quickly get frustrating.)

worth mentioning: the writing style was flawless, the voice amazingly executed–and in the thriller genre, which tends to be rife with awful writing and cliches, that’s saying something. Worth a read for the craft alone.

Final rating: three and a half stars? Rounded up to four.

 

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