The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner (book review).

At the beginning of ‘The Man From Primrose Lane’ by James Renner, we enter a grisly crime scene. The titular character, an elderly recluse seemingly without friends or family, is found murdered on a sunny summer day in the year 2008. Four years later, we meet David Neff, a best-selling non-fiction writer (whose book about a serial killer actually bears the title of James Renner’s own book about unsolved crimes in Cleveland) living near Primrose Lane, who is troubled by the suicide of his wife four years ago. Since that day, David has taken medication to stay mentally stable, devoted all his time to raising his son and never written another word.


His editor pleads with him to write another book and therefore to tackle the mystery of the murdered Man from Primrose Lane. David agrees reluctantly, but the more he investigates the incident and puts together bits and pieces to discover not only the murderer’s identity but also the identity of the victim himself, the more coincidences begin to pile up. Soon David makes connections between the deaths of the Man from Primrose Lane and his wife’s, who took her own life around the same time the hermit was killed. Things become really complicated when David discovers evidence that the Man from Primrose Lane knew things about him and his wife that he couldn’t possibly have known. As we later learn, even the case which is at the centre of David’s book is connected to the mystery of the hermit from Primrose Lane.

We are told a lot about David’s life with his wife Elizabeth through flashbacks. In part one, the flashbacks supplement the story by giving us important information about David and his wife. In part two, David goes off his medication and present and past begin to blur together for him. In part three, the Science Fiction elements become prominent and flashbacks are again used to supplement the narrative in the present.

James Renner’s novel is populated by engaging and believable characters. We really suffer with Neff when he goes off his medication. The author’s prose is strong, descriptive but not too ornate and it moves along at a quite brisk pace, taking the reader on a journey without rest. If you have been reading genre novels for 30 years, like I have, you will on page fifty at least suspect what the plot might reveal in the end. That doesn’t mean that you won’t want to read the rest. The quality of Renner’s prose is utterly addictive and it makes the novel a pleasure to read. Believe you me, even if you are right with your suspicions about the plot, there are still enough twists and turns that you won’t be expecting.

If you’re looking for an easy read, something to brighten up your mood and not too complex then stay away from this book! If you’re looking for a mind and genre-bending tale, a story that kindles your imagination, that presents a riddle to be solved, then this book is exactly what you should read. Imagine a combination of a serial killer thriller and ’12 Monkeys’ and you’ve got an inkling of the atmosphere of this novel. If James Renner’s first foray into fiction is any indication, he is an author to be watched. This novel is definitely not suitable for children or young adults. It’s a tale about the power and danger of obsession for adult readers that like a well-constructed mystery and I enjoyed it very much.

Sven Scheurer

May 2014

(pub: FSG/Sarah Crichton Books. 365 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-374-20095-4

pub: Corsair/Constable-Robinson. 454 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47210-014-6)

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