Renner knows a thing or two about cases that have the power to haunt a person for years, if not forever, having written two books of nonfiction about true crimes and unsolved mysteries in his native Ohio. Now, in his first novel, he blends his investigative-journalist background and flair for bending genres to create David Neff, a burnt-out true crime writer struggling to raise his young son four years after his wife’s still-inexplicable suicide.
Neff is rich from the proceeds of his own In Cold Blood-type work, but his hungry publisher tantalizes him with a brand-new mystery, that of the gruesome murder of the Man From Primrose Lane, an elderly recluse whose hands were always cloaked in mittens. The investigation forces Neff to wrestle with his wife’s death, her sister’s long-unsolved disappearance, and his own tortured self, in a way that forces him, and the reader, to make a tremendous leap of faith, one that moves Renner’s book from a moving meditation on love, crime, fatherhood and marriage into more audacious, speculative territory.
It would be cruel to spoil the surprise, but The Man From Primrose Lane makes a daring promise to the reader: suspend your sense of disbelief and the payoff will be worth it. This reader, anyway, gasped in surprise at the juncture between reality and fiction, then exclaimed in delight as the story galloped forth with aplomb, even as Renner kept the focus on Neff’s existential examination.
The Man From Primrose Lane brims with confidence, the kind that launches a career. But don’t be surprised if, when you’re finished, you start looking things up on Google—and find that for a certain type of mystery, what’s real turns out to be far stranger than any kind of story that could be dreamed up. Because in Renner’s world, the border has blurred so much it’s impossible to tell the difference.