While the reader is never sure if New Zealand author Finn Bell uses a wheelchair, the Finn Bell who narrates DEAD LEMONS does, the result of a drunk driving accident that cost him his wife, his livelihood, and most everything else.
Like any good drunk, Finn Bell runs away from his problems, retreating to “the house at the end of the world,” a rented cottage on the southernmost tip of New Zealand. His only neighbors are a strange clan of whalers who appear to be hiding murderous secrets on their pig farm. The citizens of Riverton would rather forget the unsolved murders that haunt the quiet fishing village, but outsider Bell won’t stop digging.
DEAD LEMONS is an eclectic-yet-satisfying blend of hard-boiled noir and rural gothic. The novel opens with our wheelchair-bound hero getting pushed off a cliff, and the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks. It’s easy to sympathize with Bell because he’s confined to a wheelchair, but nobody else does—Bell is beaten, bullied, and forced to run mundane errands during the course of DEAD LEMONS. Bell’s broken body and shattered mind are the result of his own mistakes, and his quest for redemption gives DEAD LEMONS its determined drive. Bell’s therapist wonders if he’s a “dead lemon,” a person who “knows they are never going to work out but still hangs around causing nothing but pain for themselves and the world.”
Finn tries to reclaim his soul by solving a local cold case, and along the way gets an education in murderball (wheelchair rugby), bee-keeping, cannibalism in pigs, New Zealand’s Maori culture, and whaling. (You know, you can boil three full-size men in one old try pot.) The big reveal of DEAD LEMONS gets a bit bogged down in expository prose (like Hercule Poirot pontificating at the end of an Agatha Christie novel), but there’s no denying Finn Bell (the author) is extremely gifted, and Finn Bell (the character) is an unforgettable unlikely hero.
A likable hero, simmering suspense, and odd-ball history make Finn Bell’s DEAD LEMONS a tangy thriller.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader