The Man from Primrose Lane
by James Renner
Review by Mel Jacob
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780374200954
Date: 28 February 2012 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Man from Primrose Lane is a pastiche of genres from a murder mystery, to obsession and insanity, horror, and gruesome crimes against young girls, and eventually to time travelers who seek to change the past with strange consequences. The story centers on David Neff, a writer who hits it big with a book about a serial killer of young girls, his young son Tanner, and his strange wife Elizabeth.
Much of the novel involves flashbacks into David's life, his meeting his wife, and his growing obsession with the criminal killing the young girls. A man kidnapped Elizabeth's twin sister Elaine at age ten, and she was never found. A stranger saved Elizabeth from the same fate, yet she has always felt she should have gone with her sister.
Sometimes the reader may wonder whether David shares the insanity that grips the criminals he pursues. His obsession forces him to immerse himself in the grisly crimes. His intuition is a major tool helping him to pursue the murderers. He is also on experimental medication to keep him sane. No one is quite certain what side effects it might have.
After the birth of Tanner, Elizabeth leaves the hospital and apparently commits suicide the same day as the man from Primrose Lane is killed. Tanner never knew his mother. David withdraws to raise his son and they build Rube Goldberg mousetraps.
Four years after Elizabeth's death, David's publisher wants him to write a book about the murder on Primrose Lane. The victim was found shot and with all his fingers cut off. He bled to death. Then the police find he is not the person whose name he was known by and are unable to determine his real identity. This puzzle draws David back to his obsessive state and away from his son.
While the crimes are horrifying, they are never shown, but only revealed through various police reports. Violence is threatened, but only comes to the fore in the climax. Some gutter language is used. The author pushes the envelope of believability to the point some readers may refuse to follow. Few will anticipate the ending.
Renner is an investigative journalist with two nonfiction books to his credit. This novel is his first work of fiction.