Buchanan’s debut, a dark, ambitious, and highly intelligent thriller, opens with an arresting image. In a farmer’s field, Alec Nichols, a policeman in the English seaside town of Ilmarsh, views 16 submerged horse heads, “all apart, all with only the barest strand of skin on display, all with a single eye left exposed to the sun.” Nichols and a forensic veterinarian, Cooper Allen, begin investigating the ritualistic tableau and end up probing the past and present of Ilmarsh, whose residents appear to be dying from environmental and economic disasters. In spare, poetic prose, the story unfolds mostly linearly—people disappearing, more ritualistic animal torture—with occasional flashbacks to illuminate the inner lives of characters and the history of the place itself. Decades of economic activity (fishing, oil, manufacturing, a once-thriving tourism industry) have been killing the town and poisoning the psyches of the locals: “Dying places produced desperate people. Desperate people were not, as a rule, careful or subtle in their actions.” The story line can be serpentine, but its rewards are worth the effort. This complex, often gothic tale is definitely an eye-opener. Agent: Sam Copeland, RCW Literary. (July)
Correction: The first name of character Alec Nichols was listed incorrectly in a previous version of this review.