DN-freaking-F. So no stars.
So I didn't make it to the end of this one, or the 3/4 mark. And no, I'm not sorry. Here's why:
Scott Hawkins is a decent writer, to be sure. He's got a knack for dialogue that I envy, and certainly enough imagination to power through genre work, leaving competent material in his wake. Just the sort of thing I find intriguing enough to pick up and potentially be entranced by. And it's clever.
And Mr. Hawkins knows it's clever. That is a problem.
As I read this, I kept recalling Christopher Buehlman's The Necromancer's House. Both books have wonderful concepts and similarly dark and twisted tones. They do start off with cold openings and leave the reader to figure things out, slowly. Sometimes infuriatingly so. And the author knows this, because the author is clever and wants to tease out every iota of plot, one nerve-ending at a time.
Well, suffice it to say, sometimes I don't take teasing very well. On occasion, after reading a hundred pages or so, I feel like grabbing the text by the metaphorical hair and saying, "Look, are we gonna do this plot thing or not?" This is made worse by the narrative style of 3rd person limited, where the details of the plot might be clarified if the characters chose to reflect on them. But, of course, the characters don't. Because they're secretive assholes.
Okay, so that's a little harsh, but therein lies my issue with this title. At the outset, the protagonist Carolyn knows everything we need to know to make sense of things. She knows what is going on, even if she hasn't solved the great mystery of the plot. The problem is that, as a reader, I've had to spend countless pages figuring out what Carolyn already knows, and this does not endear her to me in the slightest. In fact, it makes me hope something drastic and immediate will happen to her, such as a bus accident, and another, more competent central character (such as Steve, who is cool enough,) can take over. I can identify with Steve because, as someone outside of the great mystery, he learns just as I do what the hell is going on. Carolyn, on the other hand, won't tell me jack because the author is hiding that information. The whole affair reeks of artistic interference.
That said, I may be acting a bit unfair, or antagonistic, or childish, or what-the-fuck-ever, but I did just come off of the excellently paced and relatively transparent We Are All Completely Fine. Which, coincidentally, featured characters concealing information from each other, then had the reader follow each one in their discoveries. And it isn't as if Hawkins isn't wildly creative and often funny, because he is both of those things. The problem was simply that this book spent too much time being a puzzle, and that puzzle was not particularly well constructed. It was obviously meant to confound and its mechanisms were not subtle, less smoke and mirrors so much as locked doors with DO NOT ENTER signs, simply because telling the audience what the story was about would have made it clear, perhaps, that there was little story to begin with.
Or maybe there was more story. I don't know, because I walked out when the show was half over. Maybe someday I'll pick this one back up, but it won't be high on my second chances list unless Hawkins's next work provides a little more reason to suspend my disbelief.