Dan Simmons is one of my favorite writers. I've previously read Song of Kali, the Hyperion Cantos, Carrion Comfort, and Prayers to Broken Stones. I sometimes feel apprehension when reading a previously unread novel by an author I've come to love, because of the potential disappointment when the spell is broken. It's been broken (and redeemed) many times by Stephen King.
No worries then, on Summer of Night! This is a story reminiscent of two other novels I know, both by Stephen King: It and The Body (which appeared in Different Seasons and was the basis for the movie Stand By Me). I would not say that this is a derivative work, however. Simmons has his own ideas and agendas. The story is thrilling and the characters are rich and diverse, and though it sounds hackneyed, the portrait of small town life is on the money. If you've ever been afraid of your elementary school basement or hung out with a clever group of school kids, this book will resonate with you. Despite the age of the kids in the story, this is not a juvenile work and deserves a mature audience rating for violence (though not really more so than The Illiad), language (though again, probably not more so than Slaughter House Five), etc.
There may be some in-jokes or nods in Summer of Night. Duane may be a particular version of the detective in Carrion Comfort. I believe that the character Harland is a playful nod to Harlan Ellison, given their similar attitudes and, well, vernacular.
By way of explanation, I do not practice "inflation" in my ratings. I give the story four stars only because five stars is reserved for excellent works of deep significant: Ulysses, The Grapes of Wrath, Dune, The Name of the Rose, Shogun, and works of this level. Catcher in the Rye would be a four-star by my reckoning.
The audiobook was among the best performed that I've listened to. It was certainly well above the recording of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (which often sounded like an Al Franken SNL skit).
I hate to give a negative review. It seemed like a fascinating topic, but early on this gets very bogged down in terminology and how the investigators need a scientific approach, and who is a criminalist and who is a technician and who was on first, no second base... The work is much like a textbook in which the author wants each statement to be completely accurate without regard for whether anyone is still listening. Was it Samuel Noah Kramer who said archeology should bring the dead to life, not bring sleep to the living...? I gave this one an hour and punted.
I give this book and it's sequel Vol.1, No. 2, my highest recommendation. The writing is by turns fresh, funny, serious, and whimsical. There is a great deal of variety, and the material is poetic, lyrical and literary. It is this kind of work that got me hooked on audible, along with the wonderful but now defunct (temporarily?) show "Earshot" (formerly "Ear to the Ground"). When I listen to Verb, I get the sense of sitting around a campfire hearing stories, maybe after a day of herding cattle, or maybe we're just a bunch of boyscouts on a camping trip. I get the sense of hanging out with Steinbeck having a couple of beers, or maybe swapping stories with Shelby Foote or Seamus Heaney. Perhaps I'm comparing former girlfriend stories with Updike. I am eagerly awaiting more of this kind of material and if you read this, I hope I've turned you on to something sharp!
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