Part murder mystery, part science fiction time-traveling tale where realities bleed into each other, like in Philip K. Dick’s SF novels, The Man From Primrose Lane is a quirky, suspenseful read that will haunt your dreams for years to come. Its melding of different genres has caused some critics to react, at least in part, unfavorably towards James Renner’s debut novel, while others, who seem to “get it,” have given The Man From Primrose Lane glowing reviews. Why is this? Is The Man From Primrose Lane a great novel, which you’ll want to add to your reading lists; or is it one you would be better off avoiding, at all costs? This review will attempt to answer those questions, and help you decide if it’s worth your hard-earned dollars to buy it.
I think it’s a good thing to read what several reviewers have written about a book before you decide to buy it. You run the risk of having a couple of spoilers revealed, but you might read about a book you’ll fall in love with, which you would never have known even existed, if you hadn’t read the review. But, also, you will not be (hopefully) disappointed as much as you might otherwise be with the purchase of a book, because you will know ahead of time if it’s a book that will appeal to you or not.
I’ll admit, right from when I heard the title of this novel, I wasn’t all that sure I’d like it. The Man From Primrose Lane is not a title that told me much about what the novel is about, other than it will deal with, on one level or another, a–duh–man from Primrose Lane. But, what sort of a man? Will he be the main character, will the novel be mostly about his life, will there be a mystery involved? I had a lot of questions about the novel, just from having read the title–though, it’s not a bad title–it just didn’t really tell me much about what the book would be about.
Just as you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover, I found out that you shouldn’t always judge a book by its title, either. I really enjoyed Renner’s The Man From Primrose Lane, but don’t get it if you’re only a fan of mysteries, or are only a fan of science fiction, or you probably won’t get into the book very much.
Who is the man of the title? He is an odd man, who has a penchant for wearing mittens, no matter how warm or cold it is outside. He has the reputation of being a street person, though he has a house, with a closet full of boxes of mittens. Learning why he enjoys wearing mittens is one of the mysteries of the novel you’ll find out as you read it.
Why would anyone want to brutally murder such a man, who may seem to be, on the surface, anyway, harmless, if eccentric and reclusive? He is murdered at the very beginning of the novel, his fingers cut off of his hands while, apparently, he’s still alive. Was it a madman who killed him? A serial killer? Or, maybe someone who had been victimized or wronged by the man in the past?
Enter the author David Neff, who is asked by his publisher to write a book about the “Man with a Thousand Mittens.” Neff, a widower with a four-year-old son, Tanner, becomes the main focus of the novel, the main protagonist of this schizophenic (in a good way) novel. He’s written a bestselling book, The Serial Killer’s Protégé, about the convicted serial killer Ronil Brune and his rommmate, Trimble (the actual murderer), so his publisher thinks that Neff would be a good choice to write a book about the murder of the Man with a Thousand Mittens.
Neff’s book is about the series of murders of young, innocent ten-year-old red-haired girls that was blamed on Brune, who was executed 10 years ago. Through some “haunted letters,” he discovers, Neff learns that the actual murderer was Brune’s roommate, Trimble. The murders followed the hibernation cycle of the cicada. Somehow the identity of the Man with a Thousand Mittens.” holds the key to the ongoing series of murders. Though Brune didn’t commit the murders, he is far from a saint, and his spirit tries to possess Neff’s body. Can Neff figure out the information he needs to prevent the murderer from striking again?
Neff is romantically drawn to the character of Elizabeth, a moody and mysterious lady, who eventually becomes his wife. But, at least in part because of Neff’s obsessive drive to prove that Trimble was the real murderer, and the psychotic episodes Neff has until his therapist prescribes a strong medication, Elizabeth commits suicide. We also read that Elizabeth had a twin sister, who was one of the girls who were abducted and killed.
In the second section of the book, Neff goes off his meds, contrary to the advice of his therapist. It’s four years after the murders that Neff has written about in his bestselling book, and it’s when his editor assigns him the job of writing about the “Man with the Thousand Mittens.”
Then, in the third section, Dave’s character splits in two and half of him travels to the year 2036. Is he going insane, or has he (a part of him, anyway) actually traveled forward in time? Could it be that there’s a second serial killer? Good advice Neff could have used: Beware of peculiar black cats and black eggs.
The Man From Primrose Lane is a fascinating debut novel, and I look forward to reading and reviewing more books from James Renner in the coming years. It is a tangled mix of story lines that is somewhat tricky to keep up with, but if you like novels that cross and blend genres in very inventive ways, The Man From Primrose Lane is one you’ll want to add to your reading lists. Check it out today!