I have mixed reactions for this novel. It has both its strong and weak elements but I’m not sure which outshines which.
A serial killer is on the loose in Minnesota, snapping young women’s necks with each change of the seasons. Within twenty four hours of the first murder, TV weatherman Dixon Bell, a hulking eccentric, warns his viewers that a tornado is about to strike. The National Weather Service hasn’t called it, but Dixon Bell does because he sees it coming in his mind. Among all the complex and original characters in this astonishing novel, the shifting weather and landscape of Minnesota stand out - demonic, majestic, bizarre, magical. Dixon Bell is not the only eccentric on Channel 7’s Sky High News. His alter ego is an investigative news producer named Rick Beanblossom, a Vietnam vet and Pulitzer Prize winner, who hides his napalmed face, and his feelings, behind a mask. Guided along the way by an unnamed police source. Rick is on the track of the serial killer. Then he is assigned an unlikely partner, Andrea Labore, a lovely and ambitious ex-cop turned TV reporter. The newsman and the weatherman start out as bitter rivals for this gifted woman. But an ambivalent friendship grows between them when Dixon Bell becomes a suspect in the weather-related killings and Rick Beanblossom sets out to prove him innocent.
I would like to point out the good parts first. For one thing, it has an excellent setting. You can simply say it is set in Minnesota, but this novel not only says that but also this: This is set in the wonderful, God-loved, green, peaceful, death-free, country-loving, citizens-are-patriotic state of Minnesota. It isolated all other adjectives that are now cliches; it painted Minnesota as a unique state which has its very own characteristics you cannot identify with other states. Also, there goes the excellent character development of each of the three main characters, and also that of the few secondary ones.
Rick Beanblossom was not just the news producer behind the mask. The depth of this character was explored as well as his psychology that made the readers sympathize with him. Same goes for both Dixon Bell and Andrea Labore.
The plot is riveting and intriguing. It has two major storylines that coincide toward the end: the Edina rapist (who prowls the city at night raping women who couldn’t identify him in the dark) and the serial killer of the Twin Cities. Also, the newsroom politics adds to the flavor of the story.
Then the bad parts.
I could find too many. The pace of the story is slow and sometimes quite boring. The first few pages described the destruction done by the hurricane which is predicted by the weatherman. The murders took place so many pages before the next. Between the major events are shallow exchanges between the characters particularly Labore (she is thoroughly unlikable), between policemen (these dialogues having nothing to do with the story) and other side characters. To make all that short, it’s like the author just wanted to make it longer than it is so he inserted mostly irrelevant events and uninteresting dialogues and scenes.
The characters are a little unsympathetic. Rick, for one, may be a fine character but not all that likable. That the tragedy he suffered was enough to desensitize him is not easily justifiable. There was lack of emotional bond between him and Andrea; there was just saying “I love you”, but there’s a void or hollowness behind the words. There was just too much words and lack of depth to those words.
There are too many side stories that are irrelevant to the plot. Also, the suspense halts between 3-4 chapters. It returns after several meaningless pages. All these distractions are enough to lose interest in the story. The crimes are not all that suspenseful because the MO was common and just, Jack-the-Ripper-type same old. The real major twist only surfaces during the last page. I can’t say it’s worth it, I can’t speak for everyone; but for me, it made up for all the weak parts, at least a little bit.
This is a novel which explores the psychology of a man, who is possibly a madman or an innocent one caught up in the events, and the drives that make him do things people will not normally do. It’s a good psychological puzzle that would reveal the twist only at the last page, but it may/may not make up for the whole book. It’s maybe worth a try. I recommend it.