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The Lewton Experiment

by Rachel Sa

Toronto-based journalist Rachel Sa’s debut novel is a teen mystery in the classic style of Scooby-Doo or Nancy Drew, with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.

Fresh out of high school, Sherri Richmond has landed what seems to be the perfect summer job: junior reporter at a small newspaper in an Ontario tourist town. But from the moment she steps off the bus in Lewton, Sherri’s reporter instincts are on high alert. The bus station is deserted, storefronts on the main street are papered over, the town looks nothing like the bustling haven the brochures promised, and the first person she meets tries to recruit her to work at Shopwells, a big-box store that has recently opened on the edge of town.

At The Lewton Leader-Post, Sherri’s boss assigns her to cover the community beat. There’s little going on at the Farmers’ Market or craft fair because almost everybody in town is working or shopping at the new big-box store. When Sherri tries to write about that, her boss shuts her down. Certain she’s on to something, Sherri decides to investigate Shopwells on her own. She’s helped along the way by her new friend Ben, who just happens to be handsome, sweet, and single.

The more information Sherri uncovers, the more it becomes clear she’s disturbing sinister forces. Whoever is controlling the minds of Lewton’s Shopwells employees and customers is willing to resort to desperate measures to cover it up.

Sa’s plotting is clear, clean, and hugely enjoyable. The story rips along at a good pace, often making use of snappy and humorous dialogue. The characters, particularly Sherri, jump off the page: they’re recognizable types, but full of zing and energy.   

Without being overtly political, Sa cleverly transforms the big-box store phenomenon from a complex issue into a problem that can be solved by one resourceful girl. In keeping with the zany mystery feel, the tactics used by Sherri’s adversaries push the boundaries of plausibility, but the creepiness is measured, the resolution tidy (if somewhat violent), and the reading very satisfying indeed. It all adds up to a higly entertaining thrill ride.