Review: Niceville / Author: Carsten Stroud / Publisher: Arrow Books / Release Date: Out Now
Welcome to Niceville. A haunting town enveloped by ominous dread and riddled with unanswered questions. It’s the backdrop for Carsten Stroud’s first novel in a promised trilogy which brings together tales of bizarre disappearances, disturbing criminal activity and the town's troublesome history. Flashing with moments of brilliance but wobbling under its own ambition, Niceville is a frustrating case where less would have been considerably more.
It begins with the disappearance of Rainey Teague, a young boy who somehow reappears under almost impossible circumstances. As he rests deep in a coma, an investigation into the mystery is led by officer Nick Kavanaugh, an officer renowned for his efficiency, but one whose inner demons are triggered by the ongoing horrors in Niceville. Running parallel to this investigation is the hunt for a murderous sniper that results in a slew of murdered cops, and there are also supernatural forces causing a ruckus with the town's inhabitants. Apparently just your average day in Niceville.
The main issue with these separate strands is they’re all very different tonally. One chapter can read like an excerpt from a long-lost Stephen King novel, whereas the next delivers a crime thriller with oddly likeable murderers and elaborate weaponry lingo. Which might sound okay, but the horror-orientated side of Niceville is simply more involving and interesting to read. A fact made particularly apparent during the novels muddled and bloated midsection, which makes the reader crave a thrust towards Rainey’s disappearance over the much less captivating bank heist crime caper interspersed throughout.
It can be frustrating because Stroud’s prose is fantastic in building up tension. His bleak imagery creates a foreboding stillness to Niceville that is genuinely creepy, turning a location into one of the book's most interesting characters. Had the narrative stuck closer to this unnerving home it might have been a truly gripping tale. Sadly, padding and an unsatisfying close make Niceville hard to recommend despite its truly great moments.