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The Burn Palace Hardcover – February 7, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Rider Press; First Edition edition (February 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399160876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399160875
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #712,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Award-winning poet and veteran novelist Dobyns, who also pens the Charlie Bradshaw mystery series, sets his latest thriller in Brewster, Rhode Island, a small town beset by a series of strange occurrences that may be supernatural in nature. Detective Woody Potter has been wracked by emotional turmoil ever since his girlfriend left him. But he knows he’s in for an even rougher patch on the job when he’s called to the hospital in the middle of the night. Someone has stolen a newborn baby and left a huge red-and-yellow snake in the infant’s crib. Then the scalped corpse of an insurance investigator turns up in a parking lot. Throw in a local Wiccan sect, some out-of-control coyotes, and an unemployed plumber who has taken to growling at people, and you have a recipe for small-town hysteria. Dobyns peoples this literary chiller with a fully rounded cast of memorable characters, from an eerily self-possessed 10-year-old with an unusual gift to an opera-loving policeman who secretly longs to be a set designer. Expertly paced and smoothly written, this should appeal to both thriller and horror fans. --Joanne Wilkinson


“I've read some very good novels this year, but this one is the best of the best. In a real sense, I didn't read it at all, after the first five pages; I entered the small-town world Stephen Dobyns creates with such affection, horror, and fidelity. I can imagine Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sherwood Anderson, and--yes--Grace Metalious rising to their feet in that special Writing Room of the Dead and giving Dobyns a standing ovation.
Dobyns has always been good, but this book is authentically great. The characters are vivid originals, not a stereotype among them, and the story pulled this reader in so completely that I didn't want the book to end, and actually did go back to re-read the first chapter. One of the characters, Bingo Schwartz, loves opera, and there's something operatic about this book. All the disparate plot-threads draw together in a smashing, full-volume climax. This one is the full meal, by turns terrifying, sweet, and crazily funny. By God, there's even a sex scene so hot it makes those 50 Shades books look like Little Women. I've written some "secrets of a small New England town" books, and in The Burn Palace, it's as if Stephen Dobyns is saying--very gently--"Hey Steve…this is how you really do it."
One more thing. If ever there was a novel that demonstrates why this mode of entertainment remains healthy and vital more that 150 years after Charles Dickens did his thing, The Burn Palace is that book. It is, simply put, the embodiment of why we read stories, and why the novel will always be a better bang for the entertainment buck than movies or TV. Great story, great prose. Musical prose. You can't ask for more than this book gives. I loved it.”
Stephen King

“The latest from the prolific Dobyns is by turns an affectionate portrait of small town life, a terrifying supernatural thriller, and a sly horror comedy…despite the novel’s complexity, Dobyns gives his many characters space to come alive and allows each of the spooky subplots time to build maximum suspense…Dobyns’ tone, shifting from amused to sinister and back again, elevates the material by buttressing the horror with pitch black humor. A tour de force genre buster that could be a breakout.”—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred review

“An utterly believable tale, and Dobyns isn’t above scaring the reader silly with surprise twists and turns… Nicely done—and you may never look at doctors the same way again.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Dobyns peoples this literary chiller with a fully rounded cast of memorable characters…  Expertly paced and smoothly written, this should appeal to both thriller and horror fans.”—Booklist
“[A]n intricate who-done-it with richly drawn characters, a superb sense of place, and just enough otherworldly action to tantalize… Should appeal to readers of literary mysteries and lovers of New England fiction.”—Library Journal
“All of the characters are so well drawn that they seem like familiar people from your own hometown.”—Read Me Deadly
“Mysterious and engaging.”-New York Journal of Books

 “A huge, seamless tapestry of narrative… You can't wait to turn the page to see what happens next, to what might be hiding right around the next corner, or living quietly in that sleepy house next door to yours.”—Shelf Awareness
With nods to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen King, two other writers who know something about terrorizing small New England towns, Dobyns has created a riveting work of the imagination.”—San Antonio Express-News
“A story that rocks along without a word wasted… Dobyns writes a straight thriller, but his mastery of language puts the reader into empty streets swirling with bits of paper and dead leaves, makes us feel at one moment hurried along and at the next expansive and thoughtful…Read slowly (if you can!) to enjoy his craftsmanship.”—Charlotte Observer
“Veteran novelist Stephen Dobyns reveals how easily people can get worked up into hysterics about evil they can only imagine, even as they miss the evil right in front of their eyes. Buy it.”—New York Magazine

The Burn Palace is a blast… one of those great, big, old-fashioned doorstoppers…   It is highly recommended.”—Bookgasm
The Burn Palace is a big, meaty book that is by turns a police procedural, a horror novel and a dark, dark comedy. It’s also a spellbinding argument for the novel as a uniquely entertaining genre. This isn’t an empty-calorie slasher-flick-in-print. Dobyns has written an unhurried, old-fashioned novel, built out of well-rounded characters who find themselves in horrific, barely believable situations.”—Richmond Times Dispatch
“A hard-hitting literary mystery-thriller…  Fear drives this novel, but cleverly placed red herrings keep readers guessing as to the mystery's outcome… Dobyns delivers an engrossing story with a satisfying spine-chilling mystery.”—Winnipeg Free Press
“Though Stephen Dobyns’s new work of fiction may move primarily as a thriller, it punches and thrusts and bangs its shoulders hard against the confines of the genre in ways as entertaining as any new work of fiction you’ll read this winter. However, the best part of the book isn’t the range of characters or the style — which, to borrow a metaphor that Dobyns himself uses to describe the mind of a young boy who has just received his first deer rifle, is as “marbled with fantasy as a steak is marbled with fat ” — it’s the unfolding of a complex plot that moves all of the characters about in such fashion as to produce that frisson of American despair and horror.”—The Boston Globe

“In the space of a few days, a newborn disappears from the local hospital, and a corn snake is left in its place; a stranger arrives in town and is gruesomely murdered; and marauding packs of coyotes start attacking civilians. When the focus turns to witchcraft, the book briefly appears to be going off the rails, but the remarkably grounded and totally hilarious characters keep everything engaging…[The Burn Palace] is an exquisitely unexpected, delightfully believable exploration of what normal looks like when it goes through the (evil) looking glass.”

Customer Reviews

Also, I feel the book had many loose ends and plot holes.
The characters are chillingly believable and Mr. Dobyns does a superb job of creating the appropriate feelings for these characters.
Laurence Cone
I kept reading it to see what would happen but I can't really say I enjoyed it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Olson on April 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If you're a fan of Stephen King, this novel is for you. Not exactly what could be described as a "thriller"; much more slow-paced (but in a good way), making for extraordinary character development.

THE BURN PALACE takes place in a small Rhode Island town where things have suddenly gone very, very wrong. Missing newborns, roaming coyotes and Satanists...leaving one detective to find the answers while battling a recent break up and a bumbling "acting" police chief.

Stephen Dobyns hits it out of the park with this one. I will be searching out more of his work.

Note: I received this book free of charge from
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Set in Rhode Island, Dobyns' nail biter of a novel evokes the atmosphere of early Dan Simmons, the suggestion of evil lurking in the dynamics of daily life, kick-started by an anomaly that begets a string of others in a chaotic pattern. The menace grows with each new complication, random events beginning with the theft of a newborn from its bed in the hospital nursery. Instead of a baby boy, the distracted nurse reporting late for duty finds a snake- or in her hysteria, what she sees as snakes. In the confusion that follows, the hospital is searched for more snakes, the missing infant near forgotten in the ensuing pandemonium. Not long after the incident at the hospital, an insurance investigator from out of town is found dead in his car near the Great Swamp- stabbed and scalped. There's more: a step-father turns more manic and threatening by the day, terrifying young Hercel McGarty, Jr., the owner of the snake that was placed in the baby's hospital crib; there are rumors of Satanic bacchanals in the swamp; and the stolen baby's mother doesn't want her infant returned, convinced it is the Devil's child.

The bizarre happenings accelerate, a worrisome uptick in the mortality rate for elderly folks at a local retirement home, Hercel's cat hung from a tree, aggressive coyotes attacking sheep at a rural farm, drawing closer by the day. As the local police and state troopers call in other departments to assist with the expanding work load, the acting sheriff proves painfully inept when faced with multiple investigations. Meanwhile trooper Woody Potter and state detective Bobby Anderson attempt to make sense of the growing mayhem that began with the kidnapping of the baby, Woody slightly distracted by a reporter he at first views with hostility.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on March 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
It has been some time since the prolific Stephen Dobyns has favored us with a work of fiction. EATING NAKED, a short story compilation, released at the turn of the century (yes, that sounds strange to me as well), and since then he has confined himself to publishing several collections of poetry. THE BURN PALACE is reminiscent of some of his past work, but nonetheless stands well on its own, seeming at first blush to fit comfortably into this or that genre but ultimately becoming somewhat difficult to classify.
Brewster, Rhode Island, is the unsettling setting for the book; it is a small town whose main industry is summer tourism. Brewster otherwise lies dormant in the off-season, perhaps no more so than in late October, as Halloween approaches and the area all but goes into hibernation. Dobyns uses the opening chapter to introduce a flurry of characters and situations, all of whom eventually intertwine and interact with each other in one form or another.
Things kick off in dramatic fashion when an infant is kidnapped from a local hospital, and a snake is left in the unfortunate baby’s bassinet. Everything is important in these opening pages, from the circumstances under which the infant was snatched to the attitude of the townspeople, who ultimately appear to be more concerned with the presence of the snake than the absence of the baby. This state of affairs includes the mother of the child, who indicates that the child was the spawn of Satan. This, of course, gets the normally quiet town rocking and rolling.
Woody Potter, an extremely taciturn detective, is put in charge of the investigation. Potter, whose personality is such as to render him good at his job but unlucky in love, is faced with multiple problems, as Brewster quickly spirals out of control.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Laurence J. Coven on February 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Things are very uneasy in the small Providence suburb of Brewster. And it's not just because at the maternity ward of the local hospital a baby is missing and has been replaced by a giant snake.

No, there's a great deal more, and Woody Potter and his partner Bobby, two down-to-earth detectives are at the center of the investigation, which seems to grow weirder with each passing hour, such as a visiting insurance investigator is found dead in his car, with his scalp gone.

The townspeople are beginning to grow very restless and the objects of their suspicion are the local Wiccans, a legitimate if somewhat eccentric religious group, who are actually harmless and who believe in celebrating nature. Then there are the Satanists, who many believe are working their devil worship and curses on the town. Soon rocks are being thrown through Wiccan windows by ignorant people who can't tell a Wiccan from a wicker chair, but is all this a diversion for something far worse?

Dobyns has a great gift for weird ambiance. When a teenage girl is kidnapped by a man in a devil mask, she is later found dead hanging from a tree in the middle of a swamp on a local island. Her body has been gnawed at by animals and shot at by pellet guns. As an overweight cop makes his way through the swamp to look for her, He is almost sucked down into the miasma as he approaches the dreadful scene. Dobyns' description here is first rate, redolent with similarities to Conan Doyle's Great Grimpen Mire.

And then there are the coyotes. The town is full of them and more and more of them keep coming, hungry and looking for food. In one case they have jumped a wall and torn apart sheep and dogs -- not something coyotes are apt to do. The sheep farmer says they might be another breed: coywolves.
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