Review: “The Vivisectionist,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Fascinating peek into the minds of teenaged boys
Cons: The puzzle house still felt overly contrived
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Vivisectionist, by Ike Hamill, is the third book of his that I’ve read. I’ve been in the mood for some good old-fashioned horror, and he delivers; so far this is my favorite of the three. In it, three boys (Jack, Ben, and Stephen) are camping out in Jack’s backyard for the summer. In the course of their many hikes, they stumble across something very odd–a clue leading them to a secret cache of money in an abandoned hotel. The cache comes with cryptic instructions for some set of puzzles, and the three boys are off and running trying to find their way into and through the hotel (while keeping their work secret from Jack’s mother and father). Just to make things a little creepier, a local boy went missing nine months earlier, and the cops have just arrested a suspect.

 

I was a tad concerned that a book with a title like The Vivisectionist would turn out to be splatter horror, which isn’t really my favorite kind. Instead, the bulk of the story follows the three boys and their journey as they try to best the hotel of traps and puzzles. All three kids grow and change as they go, with one becoming completely obsessed with the puzzle.

I really like stories with cryptic puzzles characters have to find their way through, but it’s hard to find ones that work as well as I’d like, because frankly it’s almost impossible to write well. It has to be believable that the person behind it all went to that much work to create every lovingly-crafted trap, every complicated puzzle. I had some trouble buying into that in this rendition.

However, despite that this is a fun and fascinating read.

A warning for animal-loving readers: there are multiple animal kills in here. I thought they were handled okay–not too close up, for the most part. I also know it seems strange to be okay with depictions of killing humans but not animals. I think it’s just that harming animals seems more real somehow, so it hits me harder.

The pacing was great, and the events remained interesting enough that, despite feeling incredibly restless and unfocused today, I still felt pulled in and read all day.

I’m not divvying up any thoughts for the three boys, because the starts and finishes of their individual journeys deserve to be read in full. They go through quite a bit, and their relationships change drastically over the course of the summer.

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