There are a few crime authors walking the dividing line between literary fiction and noir, but Scott Adlerberg’s Graveyard Love is the kind of text that could easily become canonical when it comes to defining what that line looks like. At once elegant, dark, and mysterious, this relatively short novel offers readers a love story wrapped in a bizarre secret and sprinkled with sexual tension and unexpected violence. The result is a narrative that’s as hard to define as it is to put down.
Kurt Morgan is a struggling writer who finds himself living with his mother across the street from a graveyard in upstate New York after his last relationship ended in chaos. He is a thirty five-year old man whose reactions to tension and relationship with his mother resemble those of an angry teenager. He spends too much time in the house helping his mom writer her biography, so it comes as no surprise when he becomes infatuated with an attractive red-haired woman who regularly visits the graveyard across from his window. Kurt watches her regularly go into a crypt and stay there for a long time. Her behavior feeds his obsession and he eventually buys a telescope to look at her and starts following her around. Meanwhile, his mother is constantly pressuring him to finish the memoir and criticizing his work. Between the anxiety the book causes him, the man the red-haired woman is seeing, the mystery of her visits, and his growing fixation, Kurt quickly finds himself doing things he shouldn’t and trying to hide the results.
Graveyard Love could be described as an outstanding atmospheric thriller, but that would just touch on some of its elements. Broken River Books publishes narratives that push the boundaries of genre and, this novel is perfect example of that wonderful multiplicity and brave spirit. Adlerberg writes with the aplomb of a veteran and the novel’s DNA is a testament to the variety of influences that have shaped its author’s voice. Sure, this is a fast-paced crime novel, but it’s also a Southern Gothic that happens to be set in New York instead of Louisiana, an exploration of human psyche and obsession, a look into mother-son relationships that has echoes of Robert Bloch’s Psycho, a celebration of old films, and an uncomfortable trip into the mind of a man who’s forced to deal with the fallout of an unhealthy psychosexual development. And then there’s the writing itself, which somehow manages to repeatedly showcase the novel’s grittiness, elegance, and attention to detail in a few lines:
Out past the window, the snow flurries were a pinwheeling chaos. They swirled in the wind, obscuring the hills. The sight of the flakes lent a peacefulness to everything, and so did the sound of the knives and forks brushing against other diners’ plates. Everyone seemed becalmed – voices were murmurs.
Despite the plethora of elements that make this narrative a pleasure to read, perhaps the most impressive one is that Adlerberg manages to tell a very nuanced, detailed story that dips into the past of three characters and yet maintain a big secret hidden for a long time, and he does it in less than 200 pages. There’s never a sense of hurry, but the story is never bogged down by Kurt’s almost painful conversations with his mother and his time spent stalking the red-haired woman. Likewise, when the violence comes, it’s often as brutal and bloody as readers have come to expect from top-notch crime fiction, especially the unapologetic kind Broken River Books publishes, but the author never focuses on it or tries to milk it for shock. Instead, the spontaneity of it keeps the suspension of disbelief going and makes the narrative feel raw and immediate, almost like something that you know for a fact happened to your neighbor.
Despite the breezes high and low, bending the tree tops, turning over leaves, the air for the second straight day was warm. About fifty, parka warm. And a breeze it was, manna from heaven, that tipped me off to the body’s location. Standing by the oak where I’d rammed Soames’s corpse, I was looking for signs of disturbance in the dirt – footprints, paws, anything – when a smell collided with my face and my stomach rushed up to my throat. I covered my mouth with my hand. But nothing inside me came out and, in fact, I was smiling. The smell was like maggoty meat, the unambiguous smell of putrescence.
Graveyard Love is a hybrid crime thriller that bobs and weaves out of many genres and does them all very well. For casual readers interested in a narrative about a creepy guy whose obsession lands him a world of trouble, this is a must. For readers who want more, this is a Southern Gothic that got lost and found its way north told by an author whose voice is at once unique but also filled with echoes of literary giants like Edgar Allan Poe (who would applaud the outstanding ending) and Robert Bloch and film directors like Jacques Tourneur and Alfred Hitchcock. That’s a bizarre mix, but one that should be read in order to be fully enjoy and understood.
by Scott Adlerberg
Broken River Books; 196 p.