Review: The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

March 14, 2013 Blue Rider Press, Horror, Literary Fiction, Review, Thriller 3

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Rider Press; First Edition edition (February 7, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0399160876
  • Source: Publisher

Brewster, Rhode Island is your average small town. The majority of the residents were born there and will likely die there, their roots to the tight-knit community are strong. In a matter of a few days, however, numerous inexplicable events take place, starting with the “abduction” of a newborn baby right from it’s bassinet in the hospital. Replacing the newly born infant is a snake. This marks the beginning of a host of horrific activities, ranging from a scalping of an insurance investigator to an attack by a pack of unnaturally fearless coyotes.

The local police, including Detective Woody Potter, are stunned into action. Is it possible that all of these attacks are connected? The strange events started after two young girls were drugged and raped during some sort of Satanic ritual in the woods. One of these young victims was the mother of the missing baby, strangely not concerned after her child’s disappearance, likening it to the demonic child in Rosemary’s Baby.

Something decidedly supernatural is at hand, forcing the small community to reexamine one another in a completely new light. From a young boy somehow caught up in the events to his mentally unstable and incredibly violent stepfather, Dobyns creates a truly remarkable set of characters, all revealed within the first several pages. By the end of the novel, these characters are found to be connected, leaving the quiet town of Brewster forever changed.

It is hard to classify this novel into just one genre, instead it is a wonderful blend of literary fiction, crime fiction, and horror. What makes this novel stand out is that it isn’t simply a story of one small town’s demise at the hands of the supernatural, but instead a truly remarkable character study of the dark side of human nature.  To do so, Dobyns slows down the pacing to what could have been a much shorter book, instead replacing it with extensive detail and examination of each of the characters. Other reviews state the pacing was too slow, the detail too expansive, but to me this truly aided in the brilliance of this novel.

Typically, I’m not one to be won over by blurbs but when my idol, Stephen King, the master of horror, blurbs a book I listen. The power of this blurb is increased when I see that it’s not just your typical one line blurb but instead a page-long rave detailing his love and respect for this novel.

I’ve written some “secrets of a small New England town” books, and in The Burn Palace, it’s as if Stephen Dobyns is saying–very gently–“Hey Steve…this is how you really do it.


Typically, if I find myself reading the same book for more than a few days I get antsy. In the case of my reading of The Burn Palace, I savored it for three days, truly relishing in Dobyns’ incredibly skilled writing and his genuinely unique characters. Highly, highly recommended.



3 Responses to “Review: The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns”

  1. Becky
    Twitter: BeckyLeJeune

    I have read two of Dobyns’s earlier stand alones and loved them both. I had wondered for ages when we would see a new book from him and was so glad to hear about this one. I haven’t had a chance to read it just yet but it’s next to my bed, waiting 🙂