By MARY ANN GROSSMANN | email@example.com | Pioneer Press
August 5, 2018 at 11:31 am
“This Side of Zero” by Eric Linnell (CreateSpace, $15): Why is there an image of a guy wearing a gas mask on the cover of Minnesotan Linnell’s psychological thriller? Because he’s holding a prisoner in a basement and there’s no doubt the guy richly deserves his fate.
Carl is a nice guy who has social anxieties, OCD and cluster headaches. He works at a boring desk job he shares with Rick, a slimeball who keeps track in a little black book of the women he’s seduced, ranking them by race, age, face, body, vigor and challenge. Rick knows hes disgusting and he doesn’t care. He lives with Denise, who lives in the apartment below Carl’s.
Now Carl feels sort of responsible for Denise, because Rick treats her badly. When Denise commits suicide (this is not a spoiler), Carl vows revenge against the old man who abused her when she was a child. Through a series of mix-ups, Carl holds Rick captive and the confused womanizer thinks he is being held prisoner by a husband of one of his lovers. Meanwhile, into all this darkness comes a neglected little boy and his dog. Carl is fond of the kid and takes in his dog while he’s in school, developing a bond with the sad little kid and the happy dog.
Carl, Rick, the boy and the dog inhabit a bittersweet story that twists and turns as Carl screws up a lot of his revenge plans.
“This Side of Zero” is inventive, well-written and sometimes funny. Readers will root for Carl, inept as he is, and sometimes be amused by Rick’s insufferable sexism and arrogance. This novel is as good many I’ve read from the big publishers.