In The Lantern Man, originally published in 2020 by Down and Out Books, Bassoff once again takes his readers into a dark strip of American Gothic, a Bible Belt of the Devil where small-town killings somehow find a shaded pathway to a not-so-idyllic family. Like his previous novels in Corrosion and Beneath Cruel Waters, The Lantern Man is set in a small community nestled in a rural stretch of Colorado mountains. It is here that mining was once prominent, and like any mining town, there are inevitable childhood rumors of a murderous miner that steals away children in the night to feast on their flesh. This rumor of “The Lantern Man” plays a big part in the murder of a teenage girl. Did a killer miner from days gone by murder her or was it a young man named Stormy Greiner?
The book is presented in a pretty innovative way, with comparisons made to House of Leaves (Mark Danielewski) or Dracula (Bram Stoker). The book is presented as texts, but made up of diary entries that feature footnotes written by a detective. It is a form of ergodic literature where the reader is forced into a sort of game to review all of the book's passages and clues. It isn't a heavy lift and can be read seamlessly from beginning to end.
Ultimately, the narrative is a pretty twisted venture into some really dark places. The book's protagonist, Lizzie Greiner, is immediately disclosed to the reader as a suicide victim, a young woman who burns herself to death in an old mining shack. Beside her charred body is her journal, left in a fireproof box in a way that spells out all of the events leading up to her death.
Detective Russ Buchanan is assigned the cumbersome chore of weeding through the journal and interviewing witnesses that may hold the answer to the girl's murder. The real answer lies in the eye of the beholder – none of the evidence or witnesses provide an indisputable explanation. The author's message is purely subjective.
The Lantern Man is an extremely rewarding reading experience. The text is a great story, saturated in family ties, mystery, and a compelling narrative. But, the presentation is equally satisfying and designed for fans of crime-fiction. No matter what genre you prefer, this novel checks off every box. Highest possible recommendation.
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