If you’re looking for a funny, mind-bending murder mystery—or just looking to support a local author—you might want to add this one to your Kindle purchases. Complete with a twisted take on Darwin’s theory of evolution involving brain-eating cannibalism, Cranium by Benevolence Bay is a page-turning, unabashedly gory good time.
John Whisper is the part-time con-artist, part-time maverick detective who gets hired by the parents of a missing teenage girl to find out what happened to her. Using unconventional and not-quite-legal means of acquiring leads, Whisper investigates the girl’s social circle, the mysterious suicide of her boyfriend, and the philandering of her other, much-older secret boyfriend, eventually happening upon a conspiracy involving human taxidermy, cannibalism, and the Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque double lives of Whisper’s former colleagues.
The best part of the novel, by far, is the narration, as John Whisper moves the story along with his dry humor, sardonic cynicism, and self-depreciation. A dishonest, deceitful yet funny and entertaining protagonist, Whisper fulfills the role of an antihero whose unorthodox methods get the job done; hence his being privately hired once the girl’s parents lose faith in the police force.
Although he cashes in on some exaggerated claims of possessing psychic abilities, at some point we do see an instance of genuine psychic vision in the form of a dream, which becomes integral to solving the crime. Moreover, while he’s initially shunned by the force that cast him out on corruption charges, the skillfully executed twist ending reveals that he’s not the only unscrupulous cop in town.
A fun, fast-paced 55-page read, and a clever take on the crime genre with a touch of the supernatural, Cranium satisfies in sheer entertainment factor. It has suspense and intrigue as well as a good amount of blood and gore, so fans of all kinds of crime novels ought to find something to enjoy.
This review previously appeared in the High Plains Reader, a Fargo-Moorhead publication, in August 2012.
– Särah Nour