There’s just something about stories that involve mysterious monsters that captures my attention, and when you set those stories in the Pacific Northwest, a region I imagine to be gorgeous but have never visited, I’m given the perfect setting for a story full of shadows and guesswork.

James Boyle has fulfilled all my expectations with this great first novel. The story stakes place in the small town of Placerton, Oregon, where Police Chief Dan Connor is trying to figure out why the town’s pet dogs are going missing. This trouble is bad enough, until people also start being killed. Then, this mysterious creature – who appears in Connor’s own yard as a demented possum – becomes the source of a manhunt that requires much more than simple police work.

Boyle’s writing is descriptive and engaging, and his characters are simple but honest. I really enjoyed reading this book because I wasn’t overwhelmed by the “small-town” theme or by the supernatural elements; instead, everything works together to create a compelling and engaging story.

My one critique of the book has more to do with my own reading/viewing habits than with Boyle’s writing – I just kept picture Forks and imagining the vampires and werewolves of Stephenie Meyer’s books. But while that was a bit distracting, it doesn’t really take away from the book since there is a mysterious creature (no details will you pry from me); if this was a simple northwestern, realistic novel, my associations would be more problematic rather than just the distraction they were.

If you liked Meyer’s books or if you like stories of mystery and the supernatural, this one is a great one for you.

Cover of Ni'il: The AwakeningNi’il: The Awakening by James Boyle