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The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns
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The Burn Palace (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Stephen Dobyns

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1231397,888 (3.65)21
Member:Bookbets50
Title:The Burn Palace
Authors:Stephen Dobyns
Info:Blue Rider Press (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 480 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****1/2
Tags:2013

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The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns (2013)

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I am always leery of books that are highly praised by Stephen King. I usually very much enjoy Stephen King books, but until this book, I have never liked a book he heaped high praise on. The Burn Palace is not like most books, in that it doesn't fit into one genre, or category. It is darkly funny, often times disturbing, it blends mystery with horror, and touches on philosophy and religion. From the first chapter the reader is given loads of detail about the town of Brewster where the story takes place, so much detail that you often times feel as though you are observing the events in the book as they take place. The book has lots of death, crazed wolves, crazy townsfolk, and some less than healthy relationship issues. That being said it was a very enjoyable book to read. ( )
  zmagic69 | Mar 10, 2014 |
I don't remember how I first heard about this book, but the first thing I noticed was the gigantic blurb on the back of the book from Stephen King that included this little gem: "If ever there was a novel that demonstrates why this mode of entertainment remains healthy and vital more that 150 years after Charles Dickens did his thing, The Burn Palace is that book. It is, simply put, the embodiment of why we read stories, and why the novel will always be a better bang for the entertainment buck than movies or TV. Great story, great prose. Musical prose. You can't ask for more than this book gives."

High praise indeed. Maybe it was because of this quote that I went into the novel with Stephen King & small-town horror at the forefront of my mind, but at any rate, I felt like I was reading a slightly experimental version of 'Salem's Lot. Which was pretty cool, and slightly strange, because it wasn't a perfect comparison.

At the beginning of the novel, a baby is kidnapped from a small Rhode Island hospital and replaced with a large snake. Coyotes are out roaming the streets. Strange deaths that seem to be linked with local witches & Satanists. And in the midst of this murder and seemingly paranormal mayhem is a police force who is desperately trying to make sense of the seemingly disjointed occurrences. In other words, it's a strong mix of small-town horror and police procedural, with a little bit of experimental writing thrown in.

For the most part, it works. Occasionally the prose becomes a little too stylized, but it's easy enough to overlook. One of the biggest selling points for me was how detailed the setting was, which is one of my favorite things about Stephen King's novels, especially his earlier writing.

The novel starts off slowly and very gradually ramps up the tension until about the half way point, when the story really starts to pick up. I've suggested this book a couple times to patrons at the library, and I always tell them ahead of time that the story takes a little bit to really get going, but it picks up about halfway through.

Even though this isn't classified as straight-up horror, there are hints of the supernatural with mention of demonic worship and shape shifters. Although there's some ambiguity with whether or not the activity really is supernatural, the creepiness pervades every chapter, and the information about how bodies are cremated is delightfully gruesome.

Readalikes:

'Salem's Lot - Stephen King. The Burn Palace doesn't have any vampires, but the setting and gradual sense of horror is very similar. Both novels even have intermittent chapters where the narration feels like it's giving the reader a literal bird's eye view of the town.

Ghost Road Blues - Jonathan Maberry. Another small town thrown into disarray by the presence of something incredibly dark and evil. The tones are very similar, but Ghost Road Blues is distinctly classified as supernatural horror.

If you enjoy horror with experimental prose, you might try The Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle or Breed by Chase Novak.

If you enjoy suspenseful novels where the line between the normal and the paranormal is blurred, you might try Help for the Haunted by John Searles or Night Film by Marisha Pessl. (Note that Night Film has a much more experimental structure and feels more like a hardboiled detective novel than anything else.) ( )
  coloradogirl14 | Feb 5, 2014 |
The Burn Palace begins with a maternity nurse discovering that one of the newborns in her care has disappeared and has been replaced by a six-foot corn snake, and it just gets wilder from there. Dobyns brings in a huge case of characters, residents of the fictional small town of Brewster, Rhode Island, as well as renegade coyotes, mysterious Satanists, and a rampaging lunatic to terrify them all. But at the heart of a story is a mystery, and State Trooper Woody Potter doggedly pursues the solution while reminding us that it's all about the baby.

Dobyns juggles his cast of characters gracefully, giving us readers time to get to know the various cops, kids, town characters, and even dogs that populate Brewster, so we can better care about their safety as things start ramping up. His omniscient narrator relates the story with a folksy voice, almost as if he's sitting beside us and whispering in our ear. The petty politics and soap opera-like relationships of small-town life gradually take on sinister undertones as the plot unravels. It became very difficult to put the book down once all the pieces start whirling together.

This was a fun and thrilling read, reminiscent of Dobyns' The Church of Dead Girls or one of Stephen King's small-town tales. For me, the only major flaw was the hint of magical realism, never fully explained or incorporated fully into the overall story. But that is more than made up for by Dobyns' characters, setting, and audacious plot.

This was a birthday gift, reminding me again that Stephen Dobyns is one of my most-neglected favorite authors (2014). ( )
  sturlington | Jan 19, 2014 |
A baby is missing from the maternity ward, a snake is left in the empty crib. If that isn't enough to make you want to read the book how about the mother believing her baby is a devil or a man found dead in his car and a teenager disappears, the shape the corpse is in when found is enough to make your skin crawl. Oh, I can't forget the wolves invading the town!

This a dark read, full of mysteries and weirdness. If you like Stephen King you'll probably like this novel. I give it 4 stars. ( )
  JoyAnne | Jul 13, 2013 |
Wasn't sure where this novel was headed and I think it started with more promise than it delivered by the end.
Mostly a small town cop mystery. With an endorsement from Stephen King, I was prepared to slam it shut, if it got too 'scary'. A few paragraphs got close, mostly with the animal characters. (Have never read a King novel or movie - I'm too chicken!)
Maybe a few too many characters and didn't get quite enough time with the main characters to develop them as much as possible.
Some of the secondary characters were more interesting and a good cross-section of small town personalities.
It's an easy, quick read and enough plot to make it enjoyable. ( )
  CasaBooks | Apr 28, 2013 |
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For Phyllis Westberg,

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Nurse Spandex was late, and as she broke into a run her rubber-soled clogs went squeak-squeak on the floor of the hallway leading to labor and delivery.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399160876, Hardcover)

The sleepy community of Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. It’s a place where most of the population will likely die blocks from where they were born; where gossip spreads like wildfire, and the big entertainment on weekends is the inevitable fight at the local bar. But recently, something out of the ordinary—perhaps even supernatural—has been stirring in Brewster. While packs of coyotes gather on back roads and the news spreads that a baby has been stolen from Memorial Hospital (and replaced in its bassinet by a snake), a series of inexplicably violent acts begins to confound Detective Woody Potter and the local police—and inspire terror in the hearts and minds of the locals.

From award-winning author Stephen Dobyns comes a sardonic yet chillingly suspenseful novel: the literary equivalent of a Richard Russo small-town tableau crossed with a Stephen King thriller. The Burn Palace is a darkly funny, twisted portrait of chaos and paranoia, with an impressive host of richly rendered, larger-than-life characters and a thrilling plot that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:16 -0400)

The sleepy community of Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. It's a place where most of the population will likely die blocks from where they were born ; where gossip spreads like wildfire, and the big entertainment on weekends is the inevitable fight at the local bar. But recently, something out of the ordinary--perhaps even supernatural--has been stirring in Brewster. While packs of coyotes gather on back roads and the news spreads that a baby has been stolen from Memorial Hospital (and replaced in its bassinet by a snake), a series of inexplicably violent acts begins to confound Detective Woody Potter and the local police--and inspire terror in the hearts and minds of the locals.--Publisher's description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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