I happened upon Iowa City author Erik Therme’s “Mortom” when a Facebook friend recommended it and noted that the e-edition was on sale. I grabbed a copy and soon found myself drawn in. Therme’s debut novel is a fast-paced mystery/thriller built around family secrets and long-held grudges.
Andy Crowl and his sister Kate have come to the little town of Mortom because their cousin Craig, recently drowned, has left his house to Andy. In short order, Andy discovers that Craig has put together a high-stakes “game” — a series of mysterious clues that Andy must unravel in order to prevent an unnamed danger from coming to pass.
Andy is immediately sucked into the quest, despite Kate’s qualms and the recalcitrant nature of most of the people they encounter, including Craig’s former boss and Andy and Kate’s Aunt Mary.
Therme has a knack for building suspense and for physical detail. For example, a dead, bloated rat figures prominently in the opening scene and Therme manages to make us both see and smell it. We can feel both Andy’s revulsion and his curiosity tugging at him. Those warring impulses drive much of the character’s behavior throughout the book.
Because the book is about secrets, much time is spent with characters who refuse to reveal key details that would help Andy find the answers he seeks. For the most part, Therme handles this well, but at times I found myself just wishing all the key figures could gather around a table and hash things out. Similarly, Therme struggles a bit to keep common technology out of the picture because a good search engine would go some distance toward solving several of Craig’s clues.
Nevertheless, the books plot twists carry the reader along as things rush toward a conclusion. The book’s final showdown requires a bit of reader credulity as an impossibly lucky break saves the day, but “Mortom” is a promising start for Therme.Rob Cline is a writer and published author, marketing director for University of Iowa’s Hancher and director of literary events for New Bo Books, a division of Prairie Lights.