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Originally published Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"Castle:" in pursuit of an elusive nemesis

"Castle" is fiction writer J. Robert Lennon's chilling tale of a middle-aged loner who pursues an elusive, malevolent foe. Lennon reads April 30 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

J. Robert Lennon

The author of "Castle" will read from his book at 7:30 p.m. April 30 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com).

"Castle"

by J. Robert Lennon

Graywolf, 224 pp., $24

J. Robert Lennon's ("Mailman") shocking new novel, "Castle," begins with Eric Loesch, a single middle-aged man, returning to his childhood hometown in upstate New York. The town has seen better days. And so, even the local real estate agent is surprised when Eric decides to buy a dilapidated house situated on a large parcel of heavily forested land.

The first task for Eric is to renovate his dwelling, and he sets out to do the work himself. A loner by nature, he prefers to have few outside contacts. Thus it angers him when the townspeople he meets are curious about what he's up to and, as a result, he has frequent run-ins with them.

Eric's big sister, Jill, from whom he'd been estranged for years, arrives for a visit. Not too surprisingly, the visit ends with a traumatic confrontation, triggering a subsequent flood of recollections: the mysterious death of his parents, the trauma he'd suffered as a child and, the most intriguing of all, social encounters with a bullying psychiatrist named Dr. Avery Stiles.

These memories of the past prove to be too powerful to suppress and Eric is driven to ask around about the whereabouts of the doctor, who would be an old man by now. He learns that the man vanished years ago, following a scandal involving professional misconduct on his part.

One day Eric steps out of his house to take a hike and investigate the surrounding area. Much to his astonishment he discovers a castlelike rock tower looming ominously from the forest in the middle of his property. Events lead him to believe that someone inhabits the castle, a person who intends to harm him. His suspicion is confirmed when a white deer he'd sighted earlier is killed by an arrow practically before his eyes.

Who else but Dr. Stiles could be behind these actions? In fear for his life, Eric decides to go after his elusive, malevolent foe. The result is a suspenseful chase, during which Eric meets both his outer nemesis and his inner demons.

With meticulous prose, Lennon has given voice to a main character who is suspicious and not particularly likable, but who nonetheless commands attention. Eric so closely guards his background and emotions that only gradually do we come to know that he's a veteran of the Iraq war and that his military career has been tarnished by disgrace.

In this relatively short book of 224 pages, Lennon unfortunately tries to address too many issues to be able to bring matters to a tidy conclusion. Still this is a chilling, page-turning read, a literary thriller, if you will.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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