Asgard Park: The Summer of 1991, by Ronald Simonar, is a mythic mystery thriller.
The opening of this novel is a bit disorienting, moving between entirely unrelated storylines for a while. One begins with a story about poor citizens in Albania, who use whatever skills they have -- sex and beauty, a little English, underworld connections -- to try to improve their lives. The novel hints at corruption and secret agendas, but doesn’t really reveal anything before the story jumps to a woman trying to protect her child. Again, readers have tantalizing hints about secret identities and hidden connections, but the novel moves on before revealing anything.
Then the story moves to Asgard Park an upscale mental asylum in upstate New York, where Dr. Birger Wallenberg has just become the director, a prestigious career move for him. In fact, the position is almost too good. This is when readers will start to pick up names and references to Norse myth. The previous director of the asylum, Dr. Karl Leamas, is strangely focused on Heimdallr and Norse myth, and believes Dr. Wallenberg has been called to carry on Heimdallr’s plans on earth. Landing this prestigious new job at the Asgard Park asylum is just part of the plan... Without revealing too much of the plot, Asgard Park is an unpredictable story, with tension and surprises.
The alternating storylines are somewhat confusing at first, bringing readers into drama and tension, and then dropping that to pick up a new storyline. Several times, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to recognize characters or if we were being introduced to new characters in the middle of the action. With state surveillance, organized crime, and secret societies all making up key parts of the story, there were characters with aliases and fake backstories, which added to my confusion in the beginning. Just as I thought I knew where things were going, the narrative shifts to different characters in a new situation.
Stay with it, though, and readers will begin to pick up patterns. The ongoing themes of secrecy and alternate identities point to a mythic world just slightly hidden from our own world. If we accept that the Stasi or the mob are operating just out of sight, then what else is happening just out of sight? What other patterns and societies could we find, if we knew where to look? Asgard Park opens into a suspenseful espionage thriller with supernatural, mythological elements. (Readers don't really need a background in Norse myth to follow the story, it's all explained in the novel.)
There’s a real payoff for all the mystery in the second half of the novel. There were several times in the second half of the novel when a previous minor detail or throwaway line took on new meaning. For example, there’s a particular memorable phrase before a dramatic, bloody battle that happens right at the beginning of the book, and this whole scene was equal parts confusing and intriguing. That wasn’t a throwaway line, though, and the reasons will start to come together about halfway through the novel. This really is an unusual mystery. The story's pace picks up a lot, too, because the exposition and setup has already been done.
Once the various storylines get moving, this starts to be a conspiracy thriller with mythic elements. Readers will start to uncover patterns and connections in those unconnected storylines, and high drama and danger will keep the pages of Asgard Park turning.
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