A series of suspicious and identical deaths from an unknown disease, in what is only identified as “the plain town”, leave residents nervous and paranoid. In an era before modern technology—with references to chrome cars and rabbit-eared TVs—the town is full of regular people who have come up short in their careers, their love lives, and their dreams. Their general malaise and depression coat the town like a fog.
Author Nanette L. Avery takes a risk in A CURIOUS HOST by focusing much of the narrative on a dog rather than humans, a ploy that adds to the mystery by withholding secrets from the reader. Enough is given of the humans—a variety of characters, most of whom fall outside of the archetypical genre mores—to engage the reader and to build tension. Each character receives a snapshot chapter focusing on their daily lives, their feelings, and their flaws. The poker player and the preacher are standouts; however, others feel cursory, almost like Avery is filling out the town’s population with more potential victims.
The simpler choice would have been to focus on the human characters, but it is the dog that ties the plot together. Yet, if Avery had written less of the daily minutiae of the dog’s routine and built up the characters more, the tragic implications of the ending would hit harder. The narrative is at its strongest and creepiest when it keeps to a kind of Cold War era fear of the atomic bomb.
A great deal of the familiar is in this story: for example, a Twin Peaks-like focus on the strange and a town diner with a wisecracking waitress you’d expect to say “Kiss my grits.” Clearly influenced by small towns in fiction and moody thrillers like The Twilight Zone and The X-Files, Avery’s mix of influences sound like a recipe for success. But balancing the narration between a dog and humans, which she mostly maintains, is a strange artistic gambit. Nevertheless, A CURIOUS HOST is a quick read and worth taking the risk.
~Edward Cambro for IndieReader