The Man from Primrose Lane

The Man from Primrose Lane

3.5 19
by James Renner
     
 

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A mind-bending, genre-twisting debut novel

In West Akron, Ohio, there lived a reclusive elderly man who always wore mittens, even in July. He had no friends and no family; all over town, he was known as the Man from Primrose Lane. And on a summer day, someone murdered him.

Fast-forward four years. David Neff, the bestselling author of a true-crime book about an

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Overview

A mind-bending, genre-twisting debut novel

In West Akron, Ohio, there lived a reclusive elderly man who always wore mittens, even in July. He had no friends and no family; all over town, he was known as the Man from Primrose Lane. And on a summer day, someone murdered him.

Fast-forward four years. David Neff, the bestselling author of a true-crime book about an Ohio serial killer, is a broken man after his wife's inexplicable suicide. When an unexpected visit from an old friend introduces him to the strange mystery of "the man with a thousand mittens," David decides to investigate. What he finds draws him back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. And the closer David gets to uncovering the true identity of the Man from Primrose Lane, the more he begins to understand the dangerous power of his own obsessions and how they may be connected to the deaths of both the old hermit and his beloved wife.

Deviously plotted and full of dark wit, James Renner's The Man from Primrose Lane is an audacious debut that boasts as many twists as a roller coaster. But beneath its turns, it's a spellbinding story about our obsessions: the dangerous sway they have over us and the fates of those we love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the near future, this ambitious, genre-bending debut novel from investigative reporter Renner (Amy: My Search for Her Killer) opens with the brutal torture and killing of an elderly hermit, known as “the Man with a Thousand Mittens” (because he wore mittens in the summer), in West Akron, Ohio, and passes through the agonized aftermath of the presumed suicide of the beloved and troubled wife of bestselling true-crime journalist David Neff, who’s charged with the hermit’s murder. David, obsessed with finding the real killer and saving his four-year-old son from his worst fear, that the boy will grow up to be just like himself, painfully sets about clearing himself of the murder charge. He becomes involved with scientist Victor Tesla, whose time-travel vehicle takes multiple Davids on dizzying hunts for alternative-time child abusers, rapists, and homicidal maniacs. Punctuated by moments of desperate tenderness, this unusually demanding and grim tale provokes troubling reflections on guilt and innocence, good and evil, revenge and redemption. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary. (Mar.)
Library Journal
An eccentric recluse is murdered, and true-crime author David Neff, whose wife recently committed suicide, investigates the crime, taking him to the brink of sanity as he discovers links between his wife and the murdered man. VERDICT Compelling, genre-twisting, and explicit in description, this title confounds and entertains readers with a tale that exploits both obsession and reality. (Xpress Reviews, 3/18/12)
Kirkus Reviews
This semi-autobiographical first novel, from the author of two true-crime works, is an anything-goes mashup involving child abductions and murders, time travel and the tribulations of a writer of the true-crime variety. That writer is 34-year-old David Neff, living in Akron, Ohio, in 2012. When David was working as a journalist for an alternative newspaper, he became fascinated by the Brune case. Brune, proclaiming his innocence, had been executed 10 years earlier for the murder of several young girls. Working through his "haunted" papers, David became convinced the killer was Brune's roommate, Trimble, and wrote an accusatory book. His research came at a cost. Brune, no killer but really bad news, tried to possess David's spirit. The writer had psychotic episodes until his therapist prescribed a strong medication. It was all worth it; Trimble confessed and the book became a huge bestseller. Commercial success was accompanied by personal tragedy: David's wife Elizabeth committed suicide. Four years pass and David's publisher presses him to write another true crime story, this one about the eponymous Man: an Akron recluse, identity a mystery, found murdered in his home. A tangled tale indeed, as timelines dissolve and Renner goes back and forth between the Brune/Trimble story and the new story of The Man. It would be nice if David was a stable element in the flux, but he's not. Foolishly ignoring his therapist's advice, he goes off his meds to write his new book, with disastrous results. But it's in the novel's final third that we move deep into fantasy. David's character splits in two and half of him arrives in 2036. As he says, "Understanding time travel and its ramifications is a bit like going insane." True enough, in Renner's world. A black egg will hatch as David returns to the present. Watch for a satanic cat and a second killer of young girls.

An incoherent muddle from start to finish.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374200954
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
02/28/2012
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.18(h) x 1.24(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Man from Primrose Lane

A Novel
By James Renner

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2012 James Renner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374200954

He was mostly known as the Man from Primrose Lane, though sometimes people called him hermit, recluse, or weirdo when they gossiped about him at neighborhood block parties. To Patrolman Tom Sackett, he had always been the Man with a Thousand Mittens.

Sackett called him the Man with a Thousand Mittens because the old hermit always wore woolen mittens, even in the middle of July. He doubted most people had noticed that the old man wore different woolen mittens every time he stepped out of his ramshackle house. Most people who lived in West Akron averted their eyes when they saw him or crossed the street to avoid walking by him. He was odd. And sometimes odd was dangerous. But Sackett, who had grown up just a few houses north of Primrose Lane, had always been intrigued. In a binder somewhere in his basement, alongside boxes of baseball cards and his abandoned coin collection, was a detailed list of each mitten he’d seen the old man wear—black mittens, tan mittens, blue mittens with white piping, white mittens with blue piping, and, once, in the middle of some long-ago May, Christmas mittens with candy canes and reindeer.

On the short drive from the station to the little red house on Primrose Lane, it occurred to Sackett that he had not seen the Man with a Thousand Mittens since the day he had graduated from high school, twelve years ago. He recalled the old man shuffling down Merriman in front of his home, as his mother snapped pictures of his little brother, who had stolen his cap and gown and had stumbled around the lawn buried in maroon and gold rayon. He remembered how excited he had been a few days later, when the strange old man had appeared in a couple of those photos: blurry and distant, but there. As far as he knew, they were the only pictures of the man that existed.

Sackett turned onto Primrose Lane, which was really nothing more than a long driveway, as the Man with a Thousand Mittens was the only person who actually lived on this no- outlet side street. Sitting in the shade of the leaning porch was the young man who had dialed 911. Billy Beachum. He was the only direct contact the old man maintained with the outside world.

Billy Beachum was a delivery boy. Once a week, Billy drove his ’99 Cavalier to the house on Primrose Lane, delivered a box of essentials, and took the list for next week from the old man’s mitten- covered hands. There was rarely any conversation. It was Billy’s job to get everything on the old man’s list, no matter how loony the items seemed to be. He was given a credit card on which to charge the items. It was in the name of a business called Telemachus Ltd., a holding company whose true ownership was hidden behind a labyrinth of legal structures and subsidiaries. Bill was given three hundred dollars a month in cash to keep for his time and troubles—not bad for a sixteen- year- old with nothing but a cell phone and a hand-me-down car to his name.

Billy had inherited this job from his brother, Albert Beachum, who had inherited it from his cousin, Stephen Beachum, who had inherited it from their uncle, Tyler Beachum, who had inherited it from who the hell knows because Tyler’s dead now. Billy was discreet and didn’t talk about his odd job with even his closest friends. He took pride in keeping secret his connection to the Man from Primrose Lane, as he took pride in delivering every item the old man asked for each week, a particularly hard game on the occasions when he asked for things like “a crisscross directory of Cleveland Heights, Ohio,” “a shed cicada skin,” or “a container, roughly ten inches square, that can persist in the elements of Ohio weather for fifty years.” Mostly, though, it was easy stuff—groceries, paperback novels, jerk-off magazines.

The Beachums had kept their involvement secret for nearly thirty years. There was, in fact, only one thing that would permit them to break their silence—and that one thing had, apparently and unfortunately, occurred on Billy’s watch.

“He won’t answer the door,” Billy said, by way of a greeting, as Sackett approached. “I think he might be dead.”

The officer paused and sniffed the wet summer air. A dark tone of rot was unmistakable, though probably too faint for the boy to pick up, or he wouldn’t be sitting so close to the door. Sackett, who had recently recovered the body of a man who jumped off the Y-Bridge, a body that had gone undetected for a week because no one at the homeless shelter had reported him missing, recognized the smell for what it was and felt his stomach lurch at the fresh memory of the maggots he’d found crawling out of the bum’s nostrils, like living boogers.

He looked at the young man, at the grocery bags resting beside him (containing food, a copy of Hustler, the latest Winegardner novel, and a Geiger counter—which had been an extremely challenging request, for as much good as it would do now) and quickly deduced Billy’s role. It explained a lot— how no one ever saw the old man at the convenience store, for example. Of course he had to have had someone running his errands. In a time when many teens text rumors and post salacious halftruths on Facebook, the policeman felt admiration for the young man—and those who had come before him.

He rapped his fi st upon the door; a deep, hollow sound. He knocked again, louder. “Police,” Sackett announced in a voice an octave lower than normal.

Billy regarded him with wide eyes but didn’t move.

“Do you have a key?” he asked.

The young man laughed politely.

“I didn’t think so.”

Sackett peered through the misty porthole set in the front door. It was too dark inside to see.

Reflexively, he twisted the doorknob. The glass knob spun unhindered in his hands as the door clicked open with a shudder that seemed to ripple across the entire house. A puff of dust wafted through the narrow slit of dark between the door and the front wall, sprinkling the air with a galaxy of tiny motes. Was that the sound of a gentle sigh? Or was that in Sackett’s mind?

“Holy crow,” said Billy. “I didn’t even try it. Sorry.”

Sackett lifted a hand toward the young man. “Stay here,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

The house was a twentieth century Tudor, a large cottage-style home, and the front door opened into a narrow foyer. Beyond, Sackett saw steep stairs leading to a second floor. The smell was worse here. Rank and deep.

“Hello?” he said, his voice breaking in the middle like a teenager’s.

“Is anyone here?”

To his left was a thin coat closet that smelled of cedar. He knew what was in there even though he’d never stepped inside this house before.

He couldn’t help himself. He watched his hand stretch out from his body and pull the door open. Inside were boxes and boxes stamped miscellaneous. The top box was open, revealing an assortment of mittens, in every color of the rainbow. There had to be at least a hundred pairs in there.

By the time he turned back toward the stairs, his eyes had adjusted to the darkness well enough for him to notice the trail of blood leading from around the corner, where he assumed the kitchen was, into the living room a few steps forward and to his left. A body had been dragged across the dusty hardwood floor.

Sackett unsnapped his sidearm but left it hanging loosely at his side as he walked into the living room.

The trail ended at the body of the Man with a Thousand Mittens. The old man sat in a pool of dried blood at the center of the room, propped up against a toppled wooden chair. The only other furniture in the room was a single metal fold-out chair in one corner, beside an old lamp, resting on the floor. Each of the four walls was entirely concealed by stacks of paperback books that stretched to the fourteen-foot-high ceiling in tightly packed and ordered skyscrapers. The dead man’s head rested on his chest, his legs splayed out in either direction. Someone had cut off his fingers.

Sackett leaned toward the body, carefully avoiding the pool of dried crimson surrounding it. The old man was dressed in a stained white T-shirt and khaki shorts. On the shirt was a black hole the size of a dime, a few inches below the sternum—a single bullet hole. Streams of maggots slithered out, landing on the hard film of blood with a sound that could have been a light rain against a window.

That sort of wound, he knew, makes a man bleed inside. Most of the blood on the floor had, no doubt, come from his hands.

Sackett stood and walked deliberately to the kitchen, following the trail of blood to its point of origin. It began at the blender.

“Are those fingers?” asked Billy, eyeing the chunky, mold-crusted contents of the blender from the other doorway. “Oh, God,” he said. The young man heaved once. Twice. On the third heave, a half gallon of vomit shot out of his mouth and onto the floor, tainting Sackett’s crime scene with partially digested ham and cheese Hot Pocket and red Kool-Aid.

“Feel better?” he asked.

Billy nodded.

“Next time someone tells you to wait outside, you think you might listen?”

Billy nodded.

“Good.”



Continues...

Excerpted from The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner Copyright © 2012 by James Renner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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