Autumn’s Eyes by J.L. Sutton is a supernatural thriller that will keep you guessing – superb!
There’s nothing quite like a good detective novel, and from the first few chapters, it’s clear that Benjamin Hadley is a detective in the most classic and incredible sense of the word. With a tragic backstory and a jagged edge to his inner monologue, he is a seeker of truth being hunted by his own demons. From mysterious vixens and supernatural shivers to suspenseful prose and gritty action, Autumn’s Eyes is a complex, dark, and endlessly mysterious book that will keep readers breathlessly flipping pages.
What begins with a traditional foundation of character building and mysterious circumstances soon delves off the deep end into surreal fiction, and as readers begin to understand more of who (and what) these characters are, the plot does more than thicken. J.L. Sutton’s story sneaks into the murky realm of fantasy quite patiently, dragging readers slowly across genres and into this strange universe where Death can walk among the living, change shape, and pull off one hell of an evening dress.
Hadley was humanized from the very beginning of the novel, with his compassionate acquaintances, friends on the force, and a likable curmudgeonly characteristic that encouraged readers to engage and relate. He has a sad and troubled history, which makes readers feel empathy, but a gruff enough exterior where readers respect him as an independent, semi-heroic protagonist. Sutton sets the stage for readers to love this character just as thoroughly as Ian Fleming or Agatha Christie ever could.
In the same spirit as other authors who dabble in fantasy fiction, such as Tom Robbins, Sutton coaxes readers through vaguely unbelievable moments and surreal scenes, but they always have the facade of normal reality. It’s an impressive tool that helps readers suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the story. The author also doesn’t leave one wanting for profound pearls of wisdom, which are dropped occasionally through the prose like philosophical breadcrumbs: Proof was a mercurial concept—it depended too much on the individual for validation.
The actual dialogue in the novel is excellent – weird enough for the plot, wise enough for readers to appreciate, but not calculated enough to seem contrived. At times, when Sutton was trying to move the plot (or Hadley’s emotional level) along, the internal narration was a bit too “leading,” as though the author wanted to move onto more exciting scenes, but required certain inner revelations to occur first. While this was distracting and a bit tedious at times, it never lasted for more than a few pages, and could easily be cleaned up with a bit of editorial guidance.
As the relationship between Dawn and Benjamin continues to get stronger (and stranger), the philosophical meanderings of the author increase, entering the realms of dreams, life after death, the true value of a single human life, and the flexible standards of morality. This book is both a whimsical manifesto and a magnificent piece of suspense writing, which is not a combination that works too often. China Mieville, Christopher Moore, and others have certainly managed it in recent years, and Sutton belongs in those esteemed ranks.
With the exception of a few unpolished sections and the occasional narrative tangent, Autumn’s Eyes is a tightly planned and executed novel that asks and answers deep-seated questions about grief, redemption, and the uncertainties of death. Intense dialogue, dark and mysterious characters, and an emotionally fascinating hero, Sutton delivers a powerful piece of prose that will have you laughing and checking your locks in the same breath.