Henry, who prefers to be called Mooch, is in exile due to a roommate who misinterpreted his overindulgence in drugs as an overdose and a mother who then decided it was actually a suicide attempt and had him confined in a psych ward for a few days. If that isn’t enough, Henry’s mother (to whom he is no longer speaking) then gave him no choice but to go to the middle of nowhere Michigan to live with his homophobic grandmother on her farm. Does anyone realize how difficult it is to get recreational drugs in a town so small they are barely on the map? Henry is just disgusted by everything and is determined to somehow get enough money together to get back to LA where he belongs. Working a few days a week for a not-for-profit land conservancy is not going to give him the funds he needs, so after he stumbles across a dead body, Henry decides to solve the crime and get the sizable reward. The only problem is that one too many questions has put Henry on the murderer’s radar and his life in danger.
This story begins Marshall Thornton’s new Wyandot County Mystery series, a story that feels more along the lines of his Pinx Video mystery series than the Boystown series. The first book, The Less Than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch, introduces us to the strangest little town where homophobia runs rampant, everyone is related in some way, and murder is most unusual. Henry is a sarcastic twenty-two-year old who is used to partying, casual drug use (oxycontin being his favorite choice), and sex whenever he wants it. What he’s not familiar with is answering to anyone for his actions or labeling his pill use as an addiction—both of which are pushed down his throat on a regular basis by his less than warm-hearted grandmother. They have an uneasy relationship to say the least.
While Henry’s focus is constantly on how to escape back to his life in LA, he can’t help but find himself pulled into the life of the close-knit community he is currently living in, especially when he stumbles over a dead body while doing work for the conservancy he is employed at part time. Henry is remarkably calm about his discovery, which further cements the idea that this novel is going to be one that steps way outside the normal lines of a murder mystery—in other words, classic Marshall Thornton.
It says volumes when I can safely say that the only character in this novel who I really liked by the end of the book is the dead man who we never actually meet. Still, these people are almost hypnotically interesting and I ate this story up in one sitting. It was akin to watching a train wreck with horrified fascination—you know you should look away, but you just can’t.
Henry is going to grow on me, I am pretty sure. He begins to thaw a bit and start to tentatively question his life decisions as this story plays out. Don’t get me wrong—there is not a huge metanoia here and no big life changing moment, but there is a glimmer of the tenderness this young man so deftly hides away from others for most of this book. I think his character arc will make for a very interesting side plot as more mysteries come his way to solve.
Poor Gran receives a huge shock that will have major ramifications on both her and Henry and I am definitely eager to see how they will maneuver around each other in the next novel since Henry dropped his bombshell. I am hoping she mellows because boy is she a battle axe in this first book. To be fair, Henry is no peach and the two of them are like oil and water. There there’s Opal, who I actually came to appreciate during the course of the story. While she isn’t terribly friendly either, she most assuredly speaks her mind and I think she and Henry are destined to become good friends.
Truly, while The Less Than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch may not be a warm and fuzzy story and definitely not a romance (in fact, there isn’t even a hint of a potential love interest for Henry in this first book), it is a really solid mystery and so well written. I am hooked and I look forward to reading more about Henry’s life going forward in this quirky little backwater town.