True crime podcasts are all the rage these days, cropping up all over the internet for people to delve into and be swept away by real-life events that affected others. A few years ago I remember listening to the first season of a (then) little known podcast called Serial that followed a crime investigation into a murder and backtracked the events that led up to fateful day. Credited with being the one podcast to rule them all, I went in expecting a similar experience with Limetown.
While the Limetown podcast is fictional (so we’ve been told!!) it’s presented in the same style as Serial. In season one we’re introduced to Lia Haddock, a journalist for the APR – American Public Radio – who investigates strange events surrounding the Tennessee town: ten years ago three hundred people vanished without a trace, leaving few clues to just what happened. As Lia begins her investigation, interviewing survivors and asking uncomfortable questions, an unsettling reality of just what happened in this town of brain researchers begins to unfold….
After a three-year wait – an eternity in podcast years – the world of Limetown expands with its first published book called exactly what it is: Limetown: The Prequel to the #1 Podcast, a new look into the Limetown mythos by author Cote Smith that covers events that occurred just prior to the first season. It’s also not surprising it arrives just as its namesake releases its second season, making this a great time for fans of mystery podcasts – fictional or otherwise.
The book alternates between two different points of view: Lia and Emile Haddock, Lia’s uncle. Unlike the podcast, Lia is still a teenager when she starts digging into the mysteries surrounding the town. Her search for answers leads her down a rabbit hole of strange events and a trail of clues that don’t fit the bigger picture. Over time she begins to uncover harsh truths surrounding the town, its mysterious past and her own surprising connection to the events.
Emile’s point of view takes place twenty-five years before Lia’s, focusing more on his personal journey of self discovery. He struggles to find his place in the world alongside normal people with his ability to read the thoughts of others. Dealing with the challenges that come with surviving, let alone thriving, presented a better backdrop compared to Lia’s story.
The differing points of view of Lia and Emile don’t mesh well in this novel and it starts to show early in the story. I found Lia less engaging not because she was a weak character, but because the challenges she faced paled in comparison to the bigger picture. She spends the majority of the novel going against the authority figures in her life and struggling to stick to the ideals she’d been raised to believe, pursuing the truth because it needs to be told instead of being locked away forever to be forgotten by time.
Emile’s series of events are more engaging because of the necessary trials he endures to find a place he can call home. Throughout his arc Emile grows as a person and these changes show in later chapters. His happy moments are few and far between, but he still manages to cherish the warm memories he does have with the people he loves most.
As a prequel to the podcast, the book feels like a mixed-bag as the differing viewpoints start to work against each other. The parts with Emile were exciting with moments of happiness and sadness that made his journey feel worthwhile. His poignant coming-of-age story left me asking questions if it’s worth chasing dreams and people who aren’t within reach. At the end of the long road, will he be satisfied with these decisions or regret them?
I did come to appreciate Lia’s story over time, but again it pales in comparison to Emile’s. I had an attachment to her because she’s our guide throughout the audio podcast, but her otherwise winning personality doesn’t shine as strongly in narrative form.
Perhaps their stories would have worked better in separate novels, rather than being mashed together in this one novel. As a prequel novel to a podcast, Limetown has its flaws, yet still manages to feel like a good companion for fans looking to delve deeper into its growing lore and cast of characters, and that’s not counting the just-released second season. Of course, if you really want the most authentic experience possible, might I suggest the audiobook version instead?