“Book Review: Point Roberts”
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
A community fights off an unknown serial killer in this atmospheric mystery
Alexander Rigby’s fourth novel, Point Roberts, follows a collective of small-town residents who begin to crack a “cold case” of serial murders that nearly broke their community thirty years ago. It’s a wistful descent into a legacy of murder and madness that will keep readers guessing.
February brought the murders of five people in three consecutive years—1987, ’88, ’89—totaling 15 victims in Point Roberts. After that, the isolated peninsula in Washington State locked down during the month of February, and the murders stopped. Now, in 2017, there are still enough people in this small town who remember relevant details. Without police, benefiting from a young person’s fresh perspective, and working together, they start to unpack what happened.
The story begins with the teenage Liza who, having just moved in with new foster parents, finds an unpublished book washed up on the beach. The Fifteen was written by a local and contains theories about the murders. Liza, of course, throws herself into the middle of this mystery, weathering a number of twists.
There are many Halloweenish tricks and treats in this novel: the atmosphere of the shuttered town in winter; a book with clues that was tossed into the sea but wouldn’t stay drowned; a secret society whose members dance in golden robes; and the lingering communal obsession with the long-dead victims and the unidentified killer. It is common for horror fans to speculate on the strange secrets that may transpire in sleepy small towns, and Point Roberts is an especially bloody interpretation of that premise. It’s spooky and just offbeat enough to capture wild imaginations. Even amidst the distinctly odd scenario, readers can easily root for these earnest souls who band together to solve the murders.
The killer used various murder methods, and the story unrolls those details slowly. Another detail that takes a little while to play out completely is that of the victims’ genders: half were men, the other half women, though “half” is a rough count. After all, 15 is an odd number; furthermore, one victim was a transgender woman who had only just decided to begin transitioning. (There may be other reasons to finesse the gender count, but these are best left to the reader to discover for themselves.)
Whether the novel suits a reader’s tastes may depend on their preparation for this particular kind of horror. Point Roberts is more imaginative than plausible, more of a waking nightmare than a detective procedural. The town’s residents have managed the simultaneous feat of burying and repeatedly dissecting the evidence of the crimes, rehashing their past in strange ways that prevent them from approaching the real answer. They have experienced extreme violence and, years later, they continue to act out their personal trauma in unusual patterns.
In uncovering the secrets of their town, these people also express a longing to finally understand who they truly are, knowing that they have been shaped by where they live. This long, elaborate tale will entertain readers who enjoy intricately networked characters and a tinge of the weird.
Publisher: Alden, the Allegory Ridge Press
Paperback: 416 pages
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