The Houseboat
December 11, 2021

Book Review

The Houseboat

reviewed by Fiona Cook

For fans of Mindhunter and True Detective comes The Houseboat by Dane Bahr – an understated and atmospheric thriller set in 1960’s small-town Iowa.

Oscar, usually a peaceful farming town, is shaken when a girl is found traumatized on the side of the road, telling stories of a wild man in the woods that’s killed her boyfriend. Edward Ness, Minnesotan detective, is called in to assist – Sherriff Amos Fielding isn’t shy about needing the help, and the town needs a quick resolution to this unusual and unsettling crime. But neither of them know that the perpetrator of this crime is on a path leading nowhere good – and this peaceful countryside is heading for more darkness than they could possibly have prepared for.

The Houseboat is on the shorter side, but by virtue of some gorgeous writing, bigger on the inside. You’ll want to take your time with this one – Dane Bahr manages to evoke such a true sense of place and time that it’s hard not to almost see the novel playing out in the mind’s eye as it’s read. The language he uses is striking and simple, but not a word is out of place; and he wastes no time in taking the reader straight into the story. We know the who of the whodunnit from the start, but it doesn’t lessen any of the tension – we can also see that he’s clearly on a downward spiral, one he’s not content to head down without dragging others along with him.

 This was such a surprising, melancholy, and engrossing read. I mentioned above it’s a shorter novel, and it’s just as well – I wasn’t putting this down until I was finished. Combining the midcentury Midwest with the tone and characters of a classic noir was superbly effective – the two complemented each other, the sunny cornfields contrasting with the brooding houseboat, its occupant, and the atrocities he committed. The town of Oscar and its inhabitants still feel vividly real to me after finishing the novel – as unassuming as it was, The Houseboat has made a huge impact. 

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