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Boy in the Water

1 rating: 1.0
A book by Stephen Dobyns
1 review about Boy in the Water

A whydunit that just doesn't quite gel

  • Dec 1, 2006
Rating:
+1
Pros: Decent language, decent presentation of the psychological situations

Cons: Not fully realized characters, too predictable

The Bottom Line: A totally average book, I would only recommend with reservations. Read Church of the Dead Girls instead.

Stephen Dobyns’s Boy in the Water is his follow up to the brilliant Church of the Dead Girls. Boy in the Water isn’t nearly as brilliant.

Dr. Jim Hawthorne leaves the moderate clime of San Diego for the harsh winter of upper New Hampshire after a personal tragedy. He is a redoubtable psychologist whose specialty is kids in need or kids at risk. His task in this novel is to try to save a school for just such a population from closing. Bishop’s Hill, the school, is a poorly run and rundown school for the mostly privileged kids at risk. For those who are Harry Potter fans, imagine a run down Hogworts where the kids are more prone to be violent and every teacher is like Professor Snape. In the course of the only semester covered in the 400 page novel, there are plenty of dead bodies to keep you turning pages, but that is just about all there is.

Whodunit or whydoneit. Those are the only two ways to tell a mystery story. Either you can focus on an action or set of actions loaded with lots of suspicion and spiced with red herrings. Or you can show who is committing the actions and slowly reveal the why. The second is the more mature form because it must rely less on the standard fast-food suspicion with red herring. The problem with my little formulation here is that Mr. Dobyns has proved an exception to the rule.

Church of the Dead Girls is a very cerebral whodunit. The suspense is masterfully held and when the end comes the solution was obvious enough not to read like an Agatha Christie novel where you were never given the information needed to try to figure it out.

Boy is a whydunit that just never rose to the level of maturity that sort of story usually takes. The characters are more type than not, so the psychological delving would turn up very little even if you dug deeply. The story is like The Shining extra light with a dash of Vertigo thrown in because it just happened to be handy. This novel is not nearly as well constructed or conceived as Church is. I have to admit to being very disappointed in this novel because my expectations were set high because of the success of the previous novel.

Boy in the Water doesn’t suck, it just doesn’t live up to its potential.


Recommended:
Yes

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