Orient by Christopher Bollen

In brief: A stranger comes to the small village of Orient and people are murdered, houses burn down and strange creatures wash up onshore – there’s really only one conclusion that can be drawn, right?

The good: Towards the end, as all the strings pull together, this book becomes an all-nighter.

The not-so-good: A little slow to start.

Why I chose it: Recommended to me by Simon & Schuster – thanks for the beautiful proof (it certainly drew a lot of comments with the black edging).

Year: 2015

Pages: 612 (ARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: Orient, New York

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

I’ve been in the mood for literary fiction lately and Orient by Christopher Bollen ticks all the boxes required for an enthralling literary mystery. Think the setting of The Great Gatsby combined with a moody undercurrent of uncertainty in a small town where somebody knows just a little too much. It’s a story that will creep up on you until you’re clasped between its jaws, reading nonstop until the book is finished. Once I got into the story, it made for several late nights.

Orient is a small village on Long Island (and a real place too) where everybody knows everyone else and there’s an unfaltering division between the ‘year-rounders’ (people that live there permanently) and those that use their houses as weekenders (nearly all from the city, i.e. New York City). The weekenders are seen as intruders, people who don’t really belong in Orient. When Paul, son of an Orient stalwart, comes home for a sabbatical, the town is incensed to find that he has brought a foster son with him. Mills Chevern isn’t exactly a kid at nineteen, but nobody (including Paul) knows anything about him. How dare Paul bring a stranger into town?

Not long after Mills arrives, local handyman Jeff is found in the Sound, drowned. Then a local patriarch dies in odd circumstances. Beth, a childhood resident of Orient who has returned home with her husband, thinks that there’s something fishy. Things get even worse after mutant creatures are washed up onshore and an arson attack claims a local family. Who could it be but Mills? Beth and Mills become friends, determined to work out the true culprit. But everywhere they look, they uncover more secrets about the townspeople of Orient. It’s more a case of who doesn’t have an agenda as the town crumples around them.

It did take me a little while to get into the feel of Orient. I think this is a book that deserves to have hours devoted to it, rather than a couple of chapters each night. It took some time to meet the characters of the town and be lured into their alluring web and the sleepy, yet seedy feel of the town. Once I was hooked, I just kept reading into the night. The book is a finely crafted piece of artwork with the motives and characters carefully placed to cause maximum havoc with the quiet town. It’s also very clever in disguising who the murderer is and their motive (with thirty pages to go, I still couldn’t guess who it was). I think the most outstanding part of Orient was Christopher Bollen’s crafting of the characters. They are all carefully sculpted with their own little quirks and fierce reasons or being who they are. They’re all multi-layered, not revealing to the reader their true nature until they have to. Despite the townspeople making out Mills to be the bad guy, I felt empathy for him, growing up without love and a sense of place. Beth was another of my favourites as she grappled with a life-changing decision without having anyone to turn to.

Orient will appeal to both fans of literary fiction and thrillers – it masterfully combines the best of both into a taut novel.

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