Rating: 2 1/2 stars
A reclusive old man, known for wearing mittens year round, is found brutally murdered in his home. The circumstances surrounding the homicide are mysterious, as is the potential role the man may have played in his own demise.
Fast forward four years later. True crime author and cold-case cracker David Neff is still reeling from his wife’s unexplained suicide. A veritable recluse himself, David raises his young son, while making a valiant effort to cut himself off from his previous life—though the memories of his past still haunt him.
When David gets a visit from an old friend bearing the unsolved case of the man with a thousand mittens his interest is piqued, and some of his old instincts begin to kick in. However, the closer David gets to the truth about the man from Primrose Lane, the more surreal things become—especially when David is the one suspected of killing him.
James Renner starts things off with a bang. The prologue introduces the man with a thousand mittens and the gruesome murder that has taken his life. But, as with many prologues, the plot veers off to bring the reader into the present day that will eventually merge with the information from the past. However, Renner’s veer gains momentum until it becomes an unrestrained train of thought rampaging at 100 mph, churning out one new idea after another.
Renner’s writing style is eclectic and his genres interspersed. However, his structure feels intended more for the big screen, than the bookshelf. With lots of flashbacks and fading that would read better on film than it does on the page, things begin to feel convoluted and choppy; which, melds into haphazard and confusing with the introduction of strange new ideas and jumping between time periods —and that’s before he starts time traveling.
James Renner is to be commended for his vast and creatively varied thoughts and oft random ideas. Though at times the cohesiveness of the topics is questionable, he invariably finds a way to smooth out some of the rough edges. However, it’s apparent that no task is too daunting to take on. Through his alter-ego David Neff, Renner tackles complicated medical maladies, solves cold cases, writes true crime, dabbles in Rube Goldberg engineering, takes on time travel, and even talks shop with a theoretical physicist—just to name a few.
To say James Renner’s debut was a lofty undertaking given all that it encompassed would be an understatement. Renner’s prose is unceasing and his abilities are seemingly limitless. In the immortal words of Dan Patrick, “You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him.”
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 28, 2012)