"Empty Rooms by Jeff Mariotte gripped me from the beginning and wouldn't let me go. I am a huge fan of crime fiction, and this dark tale of kidnapping, pedophilia, despair, and poverty has made me an offical fan of Mariotte. Richie Krebbs, a recently fired police officer working in an unsatisfying job as a security guard, becomes increasingly fascinated with the abandoned Morton house. Thirteen years ago, a young girl named Angela Morton disappeared without a trace, and Richie finds it suspicious that her parents seemed detached and even unconcerned about their daughter's disappearance. Richie becomes obsessed with solving the case, and enlists the help of Detective Frank Robey. Together, they embark on a cross-country search of Angela Morton and her parents.
His "good guys'' are not perfect, and his "bad guys" are not totally evil. In this way, Mariotte humanizes his characters and the reader feels empathy towards all of them. Richie has a questionable work ethic and comes across as extremely self-absorbed. Likewise, Mariotte delves deep in the mind of a sick pedophile and gives a very objective account of his life-long struggle, and eventual acceptance, of his tendencies. I give Mariotte an A+ for character development.
There were a few plot points that I feel were slightly underdeveloped and even somewhat questionable. The author implies that the pedophile had an incestous relationship with his mother, but there is a part at the end that, if this is true, would disturb readers. (I don't want to spoil the ending, so I won't go further than that). And some important characters (such as Sheriff Kate) were cut off at the end. Mariotte had to take a few fictional liberties to make the plot work (an extremely understanding wife who allows him to quit his job although the budget is stretched to the limit to pursue this case, a trusting detective who essentially gives Richie a blank check to finance the pursuit, and a few others) but I think all writers have to do that (myself included). Although I understand that Mariotte was trying to portray the darker side of human nature, I feel that Mariotte was a little heavy-handed in the theme of domestic violence (basically portraying every man he encounters on the case as a wife-beater and every married woman as afraid to talk to him). The subplot of Wil Fowler and his family is not completely satisfied, so I would love it if Mariotte wrote a follow-up novel that centers around him and his situation.
Mariotte's use of language is impeccable. He uses a combination of serious narration, manly sarcasm, and local/cultural dialect to tell a vivid tale. His use of wording is anything but cliched. He also expertly uses several symbols and motifs to drive his plot (Superman, angels, the Morton House, and especially the literal and figurative use of "empty rooms"). Mariotte is clearly not afraid to take on some extremely controversial issues, something I highly respect in a writer. I am a new fan and will definitely be reading more of Mariotte's work."
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