Karen Novak’s creepy suspense novel Innocence impressed me on several levels. It has some vividly drawn characters, and a twisty plot that managed to surprise me more than once. It has an unusual structure, employing shifts of narrative perspective and chronology to build dramatic tension. And Novak’s prose evinces both an eye for interesting detail and some flavorful descriptions:
…a car horn rendition of “La Cucaracha” sounded outside. I looked out the sidelights of the front door to see a white van with foot-long wrought-iron ants welded along the roof, making it look like a giant motorized sugar cube at a picnic. The termite guy.
His name was William Watson, and he was carrying a black vinyl binder at least six inches thick. “Call me Bill,” he said twice, once as he shook Greg’s hand, once as he shook mine. Bill was a short, skinny man of about sixty with a well-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard and ears that were as gnarled and meaty as tree fungus. He listened to our tale of the previous night’s insect horror with his eyes turned toward the floor, his head cocked as though he were an oncologist and our complaints might hold the first subtle signs of a malignancy larger than we were prepared to face.
I liked Novak’s debut novel Five Mile House, which shares protagonist Leslie Stone, a troubled ex-cop with a lot of baggage. Innocence demonstrates exactly the sort of progress I’d hope for from an author continuing to improve her craft: it’s more nuanced and subtle, more solidly structured, told in a more authoritative set of voices.
The end was a tiny letdown, with most of the plot threads gathered up just a little too neatly and too quickly. The one significant stray thread is likewise a hair too expected, like the question mark floating into a film’s “The End” title card.
In general, though, if I enjoyed every suspense novel as much, I’d read more suspense novels.
needs more demons? no.