cover image The Houseboat

The Houseboat

Dane Bahr. Counterpoint, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-64009-508-3

One day in 1960, police detective Edward Ness, the central investigator in Bahr’s assured debut, is nursing a hangover behind his desk in downtown Minneapolis when he gets a call from a Deputy Clinton in Oscar, Iowa, a town “about as plain as a white wall.” Clinton needs Ness’s expertise in the case of Billy Rose, a high school senior who was murdered while camping with his girlfriend, Hannah Dahl, who survived the attack. In Oscar, Ness focuses on the prime suspect, Rigby Sellers, who lives alone on a houseboat on the Mississippi with female mannequins for companions and is described as a “weirdn” in one of the short anonymous witness accounts that dot the novel. Bahr’s feel for place and people, such as the creepy Sellers, creates a moody atmosphere. That Dahl is never questioned about the details of her boyfriend’s murder, or Ness’s particular expertise fully explained, leaves certain practical elements of the story wanting. Bahr’s convincing regional dialect and spot-on depiction of a small, mid-century town are the book’s main draw. Readers will be curious to see what this talented author does next. (Mar.)