The Burn Palace

The Burn Palace

4.0 10
by Stephen Dobyns
     
 

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The sleepy community of Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. It’s a place where most of the population will likely die blocks from where they were born; where gossip spreads like wildfire, and the big entertainment on weekends is the inevitable fight at the local bar. But recently, something out of the ordinary—perhaps even

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Overview

The sleepy community of Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. It’s a place where most of the population will likely die blocks from where they were born; where gossip spreads like wildfire, and the big entertainment on weekends is the inevitable fight at the local bar. But recently, something out of the ordinary—perhaps even supernatural—has been stirring in Brewster. While packs of coyotes gather on back roads and the news spreads that a baby has been stolen from Memorial Hospital (and replaced in its bassinet by a snake), a series of inexplicably violent acts begins to confound Detective Woody Potter and the local police—and inspire terror in the hearts and minds of the locals.

From award-winning author Stephen Dobyns comes a sardonic yet chillingly suspenseful novel: the literary equivalent of a Richard Russo small-town tableau crossed with a Stephen King thriller. The Burn Palace is a darkly funny, twisted portrait of chaos and paranoia, with an impressive host of richly rendered, larger-than-life characters and a thrilling plot that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The latest from the prolific Dobyns (after Eating Naked) is by turns an affectionate portrait of smalltown life, a terrifying supernatural thriller, and a sly horror comedy. Brewster, R.I., is a sleepy burg populated with a cast of lovable eccentrics. But something is wrong in this prototypical New England town. First, a baby is stolen from a local hospital and a huge striped snake put in the bassinet in its place. Then a body is found scalped in the woods. Meanwhile, packs of murderous coyotes make increasingly daring attacks on the townspeople. Most disturbing of all, locals begin coming forward with stories of strange rituals in the woods. For detective Woody Potter and acting police chief Fred Bonaldo, it’s obvious something evil is afoot, perhaps to do with the town’s new yoga center, or maybe linked to suspicious goings-on at the nearby funeral home. As the authorities descend from multiple jurisdictions creating chaos, it takes the help of young Hercel McGarity Jr., a 10-year-old who may possess the town’s only benign magical powers, to give the people of Brewster a chance to defend themselves against something far darker than anyone imagined. Despite the novel’s complexity, Dobyns gives his many characters space to come alive and allows each of the spooky subplots time to build maximum suspense. Scenes of young Hercel being menaced by a madman start out merely disturbing, but turn into some of the scariest in recent literature. Dobyn’s tone, shifting from amused to sinister and back again, elevates the material by buttressing the horror with pitch black humor. A tour de force genre buster that could be a breakout. Agent: Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober Associates. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Brewster, RI, is a small town in a small state, and seems an unlikely place for drama. But this is New England, and how better to stir hysteria and cover up a crime ring than to invoke witchcraft? Poet and novelist Dobyns performs just this bit of magic in his first novel since 1999's Boy in the Water. State trooper Woody Potter is called to Brewster when a baby disappears from the hospital, with a snake left in its bassinet instead. As Halloween approaches, the baby snatching turns out to be the first in a string of strange occurrences in town, including satanic ceremonies, coyotes in the streets, and murder. The mayhem borders on complete chaos until Woody, his partner Bobby, and other state troopers start to put the pieces together and discover the real-world sources of the related crimes. VERDICT This is an intricate who-done-it with richly drawn characters, a superb sense of place, and just enough otherworldly action to tantalize. Requiring close attention, it is not for those looking for a quick read but should appeal to readers of literary mysteries and lovers of New England fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/3/12]—Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT
Kirkus Reviews
Atmospheric New England supernaturalism from not-Stephen King, but a latter-day disciple who deservedly earns the master's praise. Nurse Spandex is a size-10 woman in size-two garb, but that doesn't keep her from making a career of seducing the docs on the floor of the Rhode Island hospital at which she works. Bad idea, since one fervent night, a newborn goes missing from the incubator, with a big scary snake wriggling around in the baby's place. Cue screaming and jiggling, for as Dobyns (Eating Naked, 2000, etc.) rightly and elegantly notes, "Surely fear is the oldest emotion. Not love, not pride, not greed. The emotion urging you to run is older than the one telling you to embrace." True that. Woody Potter, world-weary local cop and damaged Iraq veteran, has not just the case of the substitute snake to worry about, but also that of a dead insurance agent. MacGuffins abound, but then so do red herrings: Does the key to the mystery lie with a local funeral-home denizen who has suddenly taken to communing with the coyotes and is a rather surly chap ("What the fuck would I hang a cat for?"), with the neighborhood Wiccan coven, with Ouroboros worshippers or with James Earl Jones in his Conan the Barbarian role? Well, the last doesn't figure, but with Dobyns' catholic approach to possibilities, he might just as well. Finally, Woody pulls together enough evidence to lead him in a different and altogether more sinister direction that, suffice it to say, may make a reader think twice about spending a night in the hospital. An utterly believable tale, and Dobyns isn't above scaring the reader silly with surprise twists and turns. Nicely done--and you may never look at doctors the same way again.
From the Publisher
"The Burn Palace is a beautifully written tale full of wonderfully absurd characters, strange surreal events and horrific acts of violence and violation told is a disconcerting style that is both thrilling and frustrating. It's like an intricate puzzle that comes together beautifully yet leaves you with a handful of unused pieces you don't exactly know what to do with." - The Guilded Earlobe

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399160875
Publisher:
Blue Rider Press
Publication date:
02/07/2013
Pages:
480
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.08(h) x 1.43(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Hercel had seen coyotes before, and a week earlier he had seen two in the tall grass down by the beach. And he knew they took people’s pets; kids talked about it in school. They got in people’s trash and skulked around at night. But he had never heard of them chasing anybody. The coyotes’ yapping was almost like singing.
 
Moments later, Hercel saw a light ahead of him through the trees. The coyotes were right behind him. In the bits of silence within their yapping, he heard the click of their nails against the road’s hard surface. Hercel stood up and pedaled harder, slipped off the road but kept his balance. The muscles in his thighs ached, and his fingers hurt from clutching the grips. The light was brighter. Ahead, to the left, he saw a stone wall and then a gate. It had to be the farm. He heard the coyotes panting.  Trying to quiet his terror, he aimed at the wall.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“I've read some very good novels this year, but this one is the best of the best. In a real sense, I didn't read it at all, after the first five pages; I entered the small-town world Stephen Dobyns creates with such affection, horror, and fidelity. I can imagine Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sherwood Anderson, and—yes—Grace Metalious rising to their feet in that special Writing Room of the Dead and giving Dobyns a standing ovation.
Dobyns has always been good, but this book is authentically great. The characters are vivid originals, not a stereotype among them, and the story pulled this reader in so completely that I didn't want the book to end, and actually did go back to re-read the first chapter. One of the characters, Bingo Schwartz, loves opera, and there's something operatic about this book. All the disparate plot-threads draw together in a smashing, full-volume climax. This one is the full meal, by turns terrifying, sweet, and crazily funny. By God, there's even a sex scene so hot it makes those 50 Shades books look like Little Women. I've written some "secrets of a small New England town" books, and in The Burn Palace, it's as if Stephen Dobyns is saying—very gently—"Hey Steve…this is how you really do it."
One more thing. If ever there was a novel that demonstrates why this mode of entertainment remains healthy and vital more that 150 years after Charles Dickens did his thing, The Burn Palace is that book. It is, simply put, the embodiment of why we read stories, and why the novel will always be a better bang for the entertainment buck than movies or TV. Great story, great prose. Musical prose. You can't ask for more than this book gives. I loved it.”
Stephen King
“The latest from the prolific Dobyns is by turns an affectionate portrait of small town life, a terrifying supernatural thriller, and a sly horror comedy…despite the novel’s complexity, Dobyns gives his many characters space to come alive and allows each of the spooky subplots time to build maximum suspense…Dobyns’ tone, shifting from amused to sinister and back again, elevates the material by buttressing the horror with pitch black humor. A tour de force genre buster that could be a breakout.”—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred review

“An utterly believable tale, and Dobyns isn’t above scaring the reader silly with surprise twists and turns… Nicely done—and you may never look at doctors the same way again.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“Dobyns peoples this literary chiller with a fully rounded cast of memorable characters…  Expertly paced and smoothly written, this should appeal to both thriller and horror fans.”—Booklist
 
“[A]n intricate who-done-it with richly drawn characters, a superb sense of place, and just enough otherworldly action to tantalize… Should appeal to readers of literary mysteries and lovers of New England fiction.”—Library Journal
 
“All of the characters are so well drawn that they seem like familiar people from your own hometown.”—Read Me Deadly
 
“Mysterious and engaging.”-New York Journal of Books

 “A huge, seamless tapestry of narrative… You can't wait to turn the page to see what happens next, to what might be hiding right around the next corner, or living quietly in that sleepy house next door to yours.”Shelf Awareness
 
With nods to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen King, two other writers who know something about terrorizing small New England towns, Dobyns has created a riveting work of the imagination.”San Antonio Express-News
 
“A story that rocks along without a word wasted… Dobyns writes a straight thriller, but his mastery of language puts the reader into empty streets swirling with bits of paper and dead leaves, makes us feel at one moment hurried along and at the next expansive and thoughtful…Read slowly (if you can!) to enjoy his craftsmanship.”—Charlotte Observer
 
“Veteran novelist Stephen Dobyns reveals how easily people can get worked up into hysterics about evil they can only imagine, even as they miss the evil right in front of their eyes. Buy it.”—New York Magazine

The Burn Palace is a blast… one of those great, big, old-fashioned doorstoppers…   It is highly recommended.”—Bookgasm
 
The Burn Palace is a big, meaty book that is by turns a police procedural, a horror novel and a dark, dark comedy. It’s also a spellbinding argument for the novel as a uniquely entertaining genre. This isn’t an empty-calorie slasher-flick-in-print. Dobyns has written an unhurried, old-fashioned novel, built out of well-rounded characters who find themselves in horrific, barely believable situations.”—Richmond Times Dispatch
 
“A hard-hitting literary mystery-thriller…  Fear drives this novel, but cleverly placed red herrings keep readers guessing as to the mystery's outcome… Dobyns delivers an engrossing story with a satisfying spine-chilling mystery.”—Winnipeg Free Press
 
“Though Stephen Dobyns’s new work of fiction may move primarily as a thriller, it punches and thrusts and bangs its shoulders hard against the confines of the genre in ways as entertaining as any new work of fiction you’ll read this winter. However, the best part of the book isn’t the range of characters or the style — which, to borrow a metaphor that Dobyns himself uses to describe the mind of a young boy who has just received his first deer rifle, is as “marbled with fantasy as a steak is marbled with fat ” — it’s the unfolding of a complex plot that moves all of the characters about in such fashion as to produce that frisson of American despair and horror.”—The Boston Globe

“In the space of a few days, a newborn disappears from the local hospital, and a corn snake is left in its place; a stranger arrives in town and is gruesomely murdered; and marauding packs of coyotes start attacking civilians. When the focus turns to witchcraft, the book briefly appears to be going off the rails, but the remarkably grounded and totally hilarious characters keep everything engaging…[The Burn Palace] is an exquisitely unexpected, delightfully believable exploration of what normal looks like when it goes through the (evil) looking glass.”Oprah.com

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