I’m closing in on the conclusion that maybe I don’t like Jonathan Carroll after all. It’s a shame, because I now own a lot of his books. I bought a fair number of them a decade or two back, but my interest gradually waned. I bought a bunch more this year when I saw them on sale, and thought “Hey, I used to like that guy.” It might have been better to trust my memory.
Kissing the Beehive is unusual for Carroll in that it’s not really unusual. It’s a story of crime in a small town that re-emerges years later. While there are suggestions of possible supernatural elements, the book as a whole is firmly grounded in reality in a way that most Carroll books are not. Unfortunately, that leaves us with a standard mystery/thriller that isn’t really mysterious or thrilling. Carroll scatters red herrings with a will, but doesn’t follow most of them up. It might have been a more interesting story if he did. Instead, the resolution is so mundane as to be unfulfilling. In some ways this book struck me as a rewrite of A Child Across the Sky, but without the magical realist elements. Perhaps its because he introduces both with the same story about finding a dead body when he was young. It was surely a striking moment, and reasonable that Carroll would reuse it in several stories. But in neither book has he really made the most of that impact.
Carroll’s narrator, a writer, spends a lot of his time telling stories, talking about stories, and listening to stories. I got the impression that many of these were stories Carroll himself had heard or experienced. Unfortunately, they don’t contribute much to the novel, which begins to feel more like a collection of anecdotes than a narrative in itself. Perhaps that’s because the core narrative simply isn’t that interesting. Without Carroll’s supernatural elements to cloak her, one of the key actors (a woman named Veronica Lake) simply comes across as bizarre.
Overall, a readable and inoffensive book, but not one I’d particularly recommend. If you’re looking for the Carroll that you’ve heard about, try Land of Laughs instead.