Review

Amberville

by Tim Davys

Eric Bear felt he had put his past behind him. He had settled
into a peaceful life shared with his beautiful wife, Emma Rabbit,
and a successful advertising career at Wolle & Wolle. But a
hard knock on the door ends all that: Nicholas Dove is there,
demanding the impossible. Dove, an infamous gangster, has learned
he is on the fabled Death List and wants Eric to remove his name
--- or else he will kill Emma.

If the animal names in Tim Davys’s novel strike you as
odd, the rest of the details of this story, by a Swedish author
published under a pseudonym, will be astonishing. The action takes
place in Mollisan Town, an alternate world of painted streets
inhabited by stuffed animals. Eric himself is a former juvenile
criminal, the son of prominent Amberville parents, who has come up
in the world. The visit from Dove sends him looking for his old
cronies --- Tom-Tom Crow, Snake Marek and Sam Gazelle --- in the
hopes they can help him find the Death List. The list is both the
stuff of legends and the stuff of nightmares. None of the Mollisan
Town stuffed animals know for sure it exists, but all have seen
friends, family and loved ones taken away by the mysterious
Chauffeurs because supposedly their names were on it. Eric has to
race against time to solve the oldest and most profound mystery of
his civilization, and along the way he uncovers many ugly truths
about the society he lives in and the people he thought he knew
well.

The underworld into which Eric and the others plunge is both
familiar to them and unsettling. It is populated with angry animals
out for revenge, like Hyena Bataille and the secretive and powerful
Rat Ruth. They are contrasted by the moralistic and paternal
archdeacon Odenkirk and Eric's saintly twin brother Teddy. Yet
nothing is really as it seems in Mollisan Town. Eric finds himself
trying to navigate in a world without clear rules, and his actions
threaten to destroy its very structure.

Davys’s interesting debut novel explores love and identity
as well as authority, loyalty and even life and death. The
institutions of church and the government are mirrored by shady
casinos and a village-size garbage dump, and Eric is mirrored by
his brother. The narration moves between a third-person view of
Eric and several first-person perspectives, including those of
Teddy and a shadowy and controlling force who hopes to thwart
Eric's attempts at finding the Death List.

AMBERVILLE is a unique and clever take on classic noir. It is
dark and violent, seedy and complex, but also the characters are,
as Davys constantly reminds readers, stuffed animals. He spends
considerable time constructing and maintaining Mollisan Town, but
the effect is not seamless. It is difficult to conceptualize, even
though the story itself is good. There are a fair number of
surprises, and the danger seems very real. Davys adds punch to the
plot with Teddy's spiritual and philosophical musings on good and
evil, presenting a nice counterbalance to the action in the rest of
the book. Still, the novel is just never as tight as it could or
should be.

Genre fiction is built on conventions, but good genre fiction
finds ways to honor these conventions while adding something new.
In the end, AMBERVILLE does manage to become good genre fiction.
Despite its flaws, this strange and fun book is worth reading.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 22, 2010

Amberville
by Tim Davys

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0061625132
  • ISBN-13: 9780061625138