Reading NICEVILLE by Carsten Stroud, one is reminded of the carpenter’s proverb “measure twice, cut once.” Niceville, while quite a town, is anything but nice: “Niceville had some kind of strange vibe going on, like there was some power running through it… like a live wire or an underground river, and this power wasn’t a kindly one. Whatever it was, it didn’t like people. There was something wrong with Niceville.”
"Stroud manages to juggle the multiple plots and characters in a quirky fashion that arrives at a satisfying climax. With proper concentration, you will find Niceville a wonderful place to visit."
Niceville is populated by a community of enigmatic residents --- some sinister, some quirky, all portrayed by Stroud in a series of chapters that often meander from character to character and subplot to subplot. Readers must focus on the character and subplot in each chapter because the relation to the basic plot is questionable. In some fashion, it is like attempting to piece together a jigsaw puzzle without having a picture to guide you. Eventually, the multiple plots mesh together, but readers may well find themselves required to re-read sections of the novel to understand how events transpire.
NICEVILLE begins with a missing boy named Rainey Teague. While his disappearance is captured on a security camera, it defies logic. At 1513:55 Rainey is present on the video, but at 1513:56 he isn’t in the picture at all. No one can explain the disappearance but attributes what they see on tape as part of the plot orchestrated by the kidnappers. The boy is found, but his rescue yields no information as to the circumstances or reasons for his abduction.
Detective Nick Kavanaugh serves as the lead investigator. He is one of Niceville’s good characters, along with his wife, Kate, a distinguished attorney. Kate is prominent in one of the novel’s subplots, a messy divorce with an abusive husband and father.
Complicating the kidnapping further is the fact that since 1928, Niceville has reported nearly 200 abductions. The number is so high that the FBI discusses Niceville at training courses. The reader learns this information courtesy of Agent Boonie Hackendorff, who is there to investigate a bank robbery perpetuated by a greedy local policeman and his accomplices. The robbery goes awry and fellow police officers are killed, thus creating a high-speed car chase filmed by a news show helicopter that is shot out of the air by a sniper.
Even attempting to outline the various plots and characters is difficult. Wandering through the pages of Niceville is like walking the streets of a small European town where they curve and intersect, and you may find yourself lost if you fail to pay rapt attention. Suggesting that reading a novel requires focus and attention is not meant as a criticism. There is an unpredictable quality to the characters of Niceville --- a darkness in them --- but even the evildoers have some redeeming qualities.
Stroud manages to juggle the multiple plots and characters in a quirky fashion that arrives at a satisfying climax. With proper concentration, you will find Niceville a wonderful place to visit.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on June 15, 2012