MANIA is one of the most impressive thriller debuts of 2009.
Craig Larsen, who started writing what he describes as “Dick
and Jane” stories at a very early age, apparently has decided
not to stick with that genre. The loss to children’s
literature is indeed the thriller genre’s gain.
The heart of MANIA lies with Nick Wilder. Be forewarned: Nick is
not a particularly sympathetic character. It is evident almost from
the beginning that there is something wrong with him. A freelance
newspaper photographer who barely ekes out a living, Nick
constantly has blackout spells, repressed memories, hallucinations
--- and a habit of turning up at murder scenes where the guest of
honor is a victim of a Seattle serial killer known as the Street
Butcher. Nick does this so frequently that it has caused a split in
the Seattle police department between Adam Stolie, the detective
investigating the case, and Lieutenant Dombrowski, Stolie’s
superior officer. Stolie thinks that Nick is innocent, just
unlucky, while Dombrowski believes he is guilty as sin.
The worst part about it is that Nick isn’t totally sure
himself. His older brother, Sam, is wildly successful and very
supportive of him. But Nick is jealous --- and he keeps having
these weird memories of Sam, memories that are not only strange but
incomplete as well. While so much is wrong with his life, there is
Sara Garland. He meets her in a coffee shop, and it is like love at
first sight. Sara is beautiful, intelligent and wealthy, but most
importantly, she is incredibly supportive of Nick as she
aggressively pursues him. How can a loser like Nick be so lucky?
Well, for one thing, as we discover, he is definitely not a
loser…but there is something that is most definitely wrong
with him. And part of the deep, dark mystery of MANIA is uncovering
the “what” and the “why” behind it.
Larsen is strong on plot and characterization, and there are
indications throughout the book that his talents run long and deep
in those areas. The novel’s ultimate asset, however, is its
brooding, disturbing atmosphere. Almost from the first page, Larsen
infuses his story with the feeling that all is not right or well.
And indeed, it is not. The subject matter --- a serial killer loose
on the streets of Seattle, killing victims at random --- would be
enough, but the elements such as homelessness, sibling rivalry and
manipulation that populate MANIA are all painted in even darker
shades than those normally accorded to them. Larsen connects his
characters in dark, vicious circles --- some immediately obvious,
others not as much --- and then begins dropping surprises and
revelations like raindrops during a thunderstorm. You are going to
have a hard time getting Nick and the lovely Sara and the Street
Butcher out of your head --- and it won’t be for lack of
Keep an eye on Craig Larsen. I have the feeling we can expect
more top quality books from him in the future. And set aside a
night to read MANIA. You won’t want to stop once you
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 6, 2011