John Rector’s dark, moody tale will temptingly touch you at first. Then, like an out-of-control vine, it will entangle you and not let go until the novel’s end.
The Grove is the story of Dexter, who wakes up with a hangover one morning and no recollection of the night before. Only an empty bottle of whiskey serves as a souvenir. The local sheriff is there when Dexter awakes because his estranged wife, who was apparently at the house the night before, expressed concerns. “Said there was some kind of incident,” the sheriff explains. As it turns out, incident is an understatement.
After collecting himself, Dexter excuses the sheriff and wanders out to his farm field. There are other pieces of last night’s incident besides the empty bottle - namely, a tipped-over tractor and the dead body of a high school girl.
Surprisingly calm, Dexter decides to not tell the sheriff about the corpse and instead chooses to investigate on his own. For one thing, Dexter is not entirely sure that he didn’t kill the girl. After all, he doesn’t remember what happened – and something like this happened before when someone died and Dexter didn’t exactly remember doing the deed.
The most intriguing part of this novel, however, is the relationship Dexter forms with the corpse’s ghost. The spectral girl is a bit of a temptress, urging Dexter to shoot his neighbors who might have seen too much. She also never tells Dexter exactly how she died. (Oddly, the ghost of the young girl undergoes her own decomposition soon after her lifeless body does.)
The Grove is like a creepy buggy ride through an even creepier strand of trees.
Pros: Gripping exchanges between a ghost and a broken man trying to solve the mystery of her death; haunting prose with a grim conclusion.
Cons: Actual cause of death is rather ordinary, despite the intense buildup; a couple of questions about main character’s life remain dangling on the vine.
Bottom Line: Take a stroll through The Grove; though you’ll be creeped out, you’ll enjoy the trek. RECOMMENDED.