James Renner- The Man From Primrose Lane

Product DetailsRewind: Once upon a time in Ohio there lived an elderly recluse, ‘the man from Primrose Lane’. He had no friends or family. He wore mittens all year round. And one summers day, he was murdered. Fast-Forward: Bestselling author David Neff is a broken man, lonely, desolate and lost ever since his wife’s suicide. But something about the man from Primrose Lane grabs his attention and he decides to investigate the mystery – only to be dragged back into a world he thought he had left behind forever. Replay: As David gets closer to uncovering the true identity of the man from Primrose Lane, he begins to understand the terrible power of his own obsessions and how they may be connected to the deaths of both the hermit and his beloved wife…
 Now this a book that warrants serious attention from readers and critics alike. James Renner’s debut ‘The Man From Primrose Lane’ is marked by it’s refusal to conform to the normal boundaries of the crime fiction writing genre, and instead plays with the conventions of a linear story, imaginatively taking the reader in a whole new direction. Over the last few years it has not been unusual for renowned fantasy writers such as China Mieville and Tad Williams to circumvent the constraints of their genre by presenting their readers with a crime fiction plot in a fantasy setting, but only after having established their reputations in their chosen genre. With a controlled use of plotting, and having established what appears to be a normal linear crime story, Renner bravely takes the reader into a fantastical flight into the realms of SF and fantasy, whilst never losing sight of the demands of the conventional crime reader, with an assured and utterly engaging touch.

At the start of the book a reclusive old man is found murdered in his home on Primrose Lane in Akron, with no apparent reason for this senseless crime. However, in the eyes of those faceless govenment departments who document our lives in minute detail, he is quite evidently not who appears to be, having assumed the identity of a long dead individual and mysteriously accruing a substantial personal fortune, seemingly only having spent money on a huge collection of mittens and other bizarre and apparently useless items. His killer remains undetected. Grieving widower and true crime writer, David Neff, is approached by his agent to take up the threads of this story, having successfully exposed a heinous miscarriage of justice in his previous bestselling book, and to uncover the secrets and lies that underpin the mysterious death of the anonymous man from Primrose Lane. Neff, is a great character, exhibiting all the signs of a man disappearing into despair following the alleged suicide of his wife, Elizabeth, but bound by his paternal responsibilities to his young son Tanner. We observe a man trying to make sense of what appears to him to be a nonsensical chain of events, put into motion by the loss of his mercurial wife, and how her death and the murder of the old man are so inextricably linked, as strange events and crossed paths, come to light in his reasearch for his new book…

And this is where the story takes the most mysterious of turns, but by my previous reference to the SF and fantasy genres, there is some small clue to the bizarre and intriguing adventure, across different dimensions of time, that you as a reader will encounter with this book.  I was wrongfooted completely by the strange turn of events, having read a proof copy with little in the way of blurb contained within, but this for me certainly, made for a multi-stranded and at times complicated tale. I would certainly recommend that this is not a book to be picked up for a few pages before entering the Land of Nod, as it does require that attention be paid on the part of the reader to navigate the later stages of the book, but I would hasten to say that it doesn’t make the book a difficult read per se but more that you will enjoy the cleverness of it more by keeping your wits about you. Supported by a host of surprising and compelling characters the plot mushrooms into abduction, murder and a thirst for justice amongst the main protagonists. I think the strength of characterisation throughout, particularly good in the female characters of Elizabeth and Katy and that of main protagonist David,  provides a good foil to the unexpected twists and turns in the plot,that cheekily court more than one suspension of belief on the part of the reader. But you know what- Renner gets away with it. The writing is compelling, veering at times closer to contemporary literary American fiction, whilst maintaining a good conventional murder plot to carry the action along. ‘The Man From Primrose Lane’ tests your imagination from start to finish and this makes it all the more special for that. A wonderful read with an ending that may tempt you to turn back to the beginning to decipher the clever myriad of clues that lie within its pages.

James Renner is a reformed muckraker who now writes novels and short fiction. He also occasionally dabbles in film and comedy. At Kent State, Renner founded Last Call Cleveland, a sketch comedy group and for a time, they were the most-watched late-night television program in the dorms–take that Conan! Renner was once voted one of Cleveland’s Most Interesting People by Cleveland Magazine. It was between him and the Norton Furniture Guy. The editors have come to regret that decision. In 2005, Renner directed a short film based on the Stephen King story, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away. King sold him the rights for $1. Renner spends his spare time hunting serial killers and writing about his adventures. One of his true crime stories was published in the Best American Crime Reporting anthology. It was the first nonfiction true crime article to use a dream sequence as a narrative device. Sometimes Renner pretends to smoke cigarettes because he wants to feel relaxed but is too afraid of the harmful effects to actually light it. Find out more here: http://jamesrenner.com/

JSASCRIBES interviewing James Renner, read it here: http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/author-interview-james-renner/

See another review here: http://www.curiositykilledthebookworm.net/2013/01/the-man-from-primrose-lane.html

‘The Man From Primrose Lane’ is published by Corsair and available in paperback and e-book

(With thanks to Corsair for the ARC)


  1. I honestly have to say that I’m not one to reach first for a fantasy kind of novel. But it can work well and like you, I always respect authors who try something different and don’t serve up rehashed plots and strategies. Sounds like this one of those authors to watch for…

  2. After ‘The Last Policeman’ I’m more open to the mix of crime and SF as long as their’s enough realism for me. I’m adding this book to my list.

  3. This was a breath of fresh air as like you I am exploring more books that cross over genres. Likewise your review has made me want to read ‘The Last Policeman’- sounds an intriguing read.

  4. Thanks and I apologise for my grammar in the last post. It comes from writing too quickly. It should have read ‘there’s’. And I’m an English language teacher arggggg.

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