The Morning Call (Sunday)

Coming-of-age tale gets horrific twist

- — Andrew DeMillo, Associated Press

Jo Nesbø, the Norwegian author best known for his crime series starring Harry Hole, is out with something completely different.

“The Night House” begins as a young, bullying boy in the English countrysid­e dares a classmate to make a prank call from a phone booth. By page eight, the classmate’s ear is “stuck to the bloody, perforated listening end,” and the phone is making slurping sounds as it liquifies Tom and sucks him into oblivion. Suddenly Richard, the young bully, is a chief suspect in Tom’s disappeara­nce.

When another classmate mysterious­ly disappears after spending time with Richard, he is sent to the Rorrim Correction­al Facility for Young People while authoritie­s investigat­e. We learn bits and pieces of his back story in the next 100 or so pages — his parents died in a London fire when Richard was 14, and he’s now living with relatives in the U.K. — that ends with him breaking out of the facility as he tries to save the life of a third classmate who is possessed by whatever evil lurks on the other side of that phone line.

And then, at a little over the halfway mark, Nesbø begins “Part Two,” and readers are forced to rethink everything they just read. How things piece together for the remainder of the book shouldn’t be spoiled, but suffice it to say “The Night House” really isn’t a classic who-done-it horror novel, but a story of one traumatize­d young man’s search for meaning in the wake of a personal tragedy.

After readers turn the final page of the book, it’s fun going back and picking up all the foreshadow­ing, some of which seems heavy-handed in hindsight, but goes barely noticed on first read. Nesbø inserts some references to Kafka

and “The Lord of the Flies,” even “Night of the Living Dead,” which by the end of the novel function like that final scene in the 1995 film “The Usual Suspects,” as Verbal Kint reveals how he created the legend of Keyser Söze. — Rob Merrill, Associated Press

A decade before the school shooting at Columbine

and more than two decades before the massacre at Uvalde, a man armed with an AK-47 fired his rifle at an crowded elementary playground in California, killing five children and injuring 31 others.

The 1989 Stockton shooting, recounted in “American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15,” was at that point the worst shooting at an elementary school in U.S. history. It prompted a prophetic question from a local school official who asked whether “we need a plan where kids are told to hit the deck like air raid drills.”

In “American Gun,” Wall Street Journal reporters Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson trace how gun violence has transforme­d the country from one where such drills seemed outlandish to one where active-shooter drills and alerts are a constant

part of life.

McWhirter and Elinson chronicle that haunting evolution by focusing on the history of the AR-15-style rifle. The book profiles Eugene Stoner, a Marine veteran and amateur gun designer in California, who created the AR-15 as a lightweigh­t weapon for troops to use during the Cold War.

Initial efforts to sell a civilian version of Stoner’s rifle were a flop. But over the years the weapon’s sales and significan­ce to gun owners grew, with gunmakers finding workaround­s to the 1994 assault weapons ban, and its sales exploded after the ban expired in 2004.

The authors offer a comprehens­ive, evenhanded look at the AR-15’s history and the debate over gun violence, but keep the human toll at the forefront. The book includes harrowing details of notorious mass shootings over the years where AR-15-style rifles were used.

The well-reported book is vital for anyone who wants to understand how Stoner’s creation transforme­d over time into what the authors call the “fulcrum of America’s great gun divide.”

By Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 496 pages, $32.
‘AMERICAN GUN’ By Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 496 pages, $32.
 ?? ?? ‘THE NIGHT HOUSE’ By Jo Nesbø, translated by Neil Smith; Knopf,
256 pages, $28.
‘THE NIGHT HOUSE’ By Jo Nesbø, translated by Neil Smith; Knopf, 256 pages, $28.

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