67 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Dr. Cathy Goodwin
- Published on Amazon.com
If you're a fan of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries, you may be eagerly awaiting this book. Alas, it's totally different. It'ts almost a formulaic suspense story. The characters just weren't that interesting. We didn't get a sense of who they were and why they did what they did. Insanity as a motive is probably common in real life; in mysteries it's less compelling.
The book begins reasonably with stories of Dylan, accused of killing his family in Minnesota, and Polly, daughter of an alcoholic, abusive mother in Louisiana. Of course the reader knows the stories will come together and the surprise ending is telegraphed along the way.
We aren't told how the lead characters get to where they are. How did Polly thrive and become an English literature professor? Why does an educated woman keep seeking answers in the Tarot cards? How did Marshall grow beyond his early chiildhood incarceration? And why didn't Polly show a little more healthy curiosity after meeting this man, especially since she had daughters?
Midway through I began turning pages and then gave up altogether and peeked at the ending. It's hard to get through a book without a single appealing character.
I realize Nevada Barr is probably tired of Anna Pigeon, but she writes best when she draws on her own first-hand experience. Anna is special. The characters in 13-1/2 could come from a handful of other "psychological suspense" authors. Barr writes better than most, but she doesn't show her strength: developing three-dimensional people we can't help admiring.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
First I'm going to get the "mean but funny one line review" out of the way:
MARY HIGGENS CLARK MYSTERY FILMED BY ROB ZOMBIE!
Nevada Barr's new novel "13 1/2" doesn't succeed. But it's not for lack of trying. There are moments of intense graphic surrealism here that nevertheless are coherent and that is attributable to the fact that Nevada Barr is one of our best popular mystery novelists. There is a problem, however, with her mixture of "chick flick" and "in cold blood" genres.
A mystery has a big reveal at the ending. It does not help that halfway through the book the general nature of the twist is available. But her real problem is that holding back the unmasking meant she could not go into depth in character exposition, and that in turn meant a detachment from the characters, that in turn led to a detachment by the reader from the story.
I would've liked to have seen this book half again longer, in other words turned into a novel of character exposition. Nevada Barr has the skills to surgically reveal the layers of these kind of people. But by definition, then there would be no surprise. And there is the additional fact that people identify with human beings who have human relationships. Sociopaths have no human relationships. Sociopaths only have complexities. Complexities are inherently boring once you get the basic game. Sociopaths, in a very real sense, are not very interesting once you realize that's what your dealing with.
I give this book 3 stars out of five because that's what reviews are supposed to do. But I wrote this review mostly because she tried something interesting that didn't quite work and the reasons it didn't work are more interesting than the antagonist.
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
1970: On a rain-swept highway outside Prentiss, Mississippi, 15-year-old Polly Deschamps reaches a crossroads that will change her miserable life. She abandons her mother's car on the side of the highway, trusting the police to find and return it, recounts the $11 she stole from her mother's drunken boyfriend, steps onto the shoulder of the highway, and sticks out her thumb. Will it be Jackson or New Orleans? The trucker who pulls over tells her he's headed for Bourbon Street, which is "no place for a young white girl," so he lets her out in Jackson Square. The tarot card reader is the only woman, except for the hookers, who is visible in the darkened park, so she seats herself at the gypsy's table, and Polly's fate is sealed.
Fifteen hundred miles away, a young boy named Dylan has just been sentenced to the psychiatric facility in a juvenile detention center in Du Walt, Minnesota for taking an axe to his parents, his baby sister and the family cat. Only his brother, Richard, survived the bloodbath, and Dylan, dubbed "Butcher Boy" by the title-hungry media, sets foot on his own journey to an uncertain future as his fate is sealed as well.
Now cut to 2007: Dr. Polly Deschamps, ever hungry for knowledge and eager to lift herself out of the squalid poverty of her childhood, has worked hard, earned her way through high school and university, and is now a tenured and respected English professor at a local New Orleans college. Recently divorced with two young daughters, her social life is restricted to fellow educators until she meets Marshall Marchand, a dashing, successful architect whose company has landed a major contract to help reconstruct New Orleans following the Katrina disaster.
When Marshall and Polly first meet in Jackson Square, still her favorite haunt, he is smitten for the first time in his life. He has spent his adult years working at what he loves --- designing buildings and collecting art --- but he had not allowed himself time for a serious relationship. He and his brother, Danny, a successful owner of a chain of boutique drugstores, live in a condominium in the craftsman neighborhood of New Orleans, and the successful bachelors lead a genteel and quiet but stylish social life. Polly's appearance in Marshall's life is as alarming to Danny as it is alluring to Marshall, and Danny cautions his brother to take it slowly. Their romance leads the two lonely people on a path of horrifying discoveries that set the stage for a thriller of Shirley Jackson proportions.
Nevada Barr, who has 10 bestselling mysteries under her belt, may be familiar to readers as the creator of U.S. National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, solver of murders in exotic wilderness settings. No stranger to building suspense and creating page-turning chase scenes with spine-chilling climaxes, Barr has broken out of the series mold with this new cast of characters. Additionally, 13 ½ goes much further as a psychological thriller than Anna Pigeon novels, as Barr delves deeply into the psyche of the young murderer through his psychiatrist, his own attempts to reconcile his crime of which he has no memory, and his surviving and overly protective brother. The killer's adult persona has grown even more devious as he matures, and Polly and her young family find themselves drawn into a deadly web of terror and deceit.
Barr diabolically pulls the reader along through enigmatic journal entries made up of personal comments about major multiple murders from years past: from serial killer Charles Starkweather, to Susan Smith and Andrea Yates (who both kill their own children), and Scott Peterson (who cold-bloodedly kills his pregnant wife). Who has written these notes and why?
Are you ready for a good, chilling read? Ready to pull the shades, turn on the lights and stay up all night? Nevada Barr is right up there with Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Thomas Harris. If you can put this book down before you've finished the last few chapters, you possess nerves of steel. Will Barr be ready to return to her Anna Pigeon series, or are there more psychological thrillers in that devious mind still waiting to be written? Either way, we're all eagerly anticipating her next book.
--- Reviewed by Roz Shea
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
In Rochester, Minnesota, an eleven-year-old boy, Dylan Raines, is tagged "The Butcher Boy" by an avid press for slaughtering his mother, father and baby sister with an axe, only his slightly older brother, Richard, surviving a terrible blow to his leg. Dylan wakes up to a nightmare of blood and gore, but can't- or won't- remember anything. When the first cop on the scene drags him from body to body, explaining what he has done, Dylan is too stunned to respond, withdrawing from all knowledge of the heinous crimes.
Taking her inspiration from actual events, Barr embellishes on the theme of sensational murders and Dylan's incarceration in juvenile detention in Minnesota from age eleven to 2007, in post-Katrina New Orleans. Moving back and forth between the horrors of a boy's axe murders to a reinvented self as a restoration architect who lives with his brother, the author links past to present, long-besieged memories awakened when the released killer falls in love with a lady who has run away from her own past in Mississippi to an new life in New Orleans. Barr's task is daunting: how does repressed memory affect a man who has fallen in love for the first time? Will he kill again?
Dylan and Richard Raines become Marshall and Danny Marchand, Marshall depending on his older brother to control the history that has haunted his life. But when Marshall loses his heart to Polly Farmer Deschamps, that fragile balance is threatened. Either Marshall is capable of overcoming his dark past or he is in jeopardy of releasing old demons. Segueing from past to present, the years in juvenile detection become more realistic than Marshall's tormented state in New Orleans. While in detention, Dylan is assaulted daily by an unscrupulous psychiatrist hoping to make his name in the field. Rather than comply, Dylan suffers institutional abuse. In New Orleans Dylan is his own worst enemy. As the ugly past resurfaces, only Danny can help his brother navigate this new treachery.
Is Barr successful? I don't think so. In spite of the bloody crime scene, years of incarceration and a potential for redemption, the story is too sensational, too filled with circumstances that challenge even the most active imagination. In spite of the author's contortions, the reader instinctively knows the answer to this riddle long before the final page. Luan Gaines/2009.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I loved the previous novels of Ms. Barr. However, this one was just too gruesome for me. I think it was the frozen chihauhau in the freezer that put me over the top - I didn't go any further. Words like 'sick' and 'nauseating' come to mind.