Robert Jackson Bennett’s debut, Mr. Shivers, was to my great surprise a fabulous read. I say to my great surprise, yet this is a book that has been loaded with praise, but I still had my doubts. Those were quickly vanquished by Jackson’s honest prose and eerie tale of a man out for justice - revenge - and who will get more than he bargained for on a journey through the vast and haunting landscape that was the dust-strewn American southwest. For the work of a debut-writer, Mr. Shivers possesses an unusual depth and maturity and expertly wields themes and plot into a captivating literary horror novel.
It is the time of the Great Depression. The dustbowl has turned the western skies red and thousands leave their homes seeking a better life.
Marcus Connelly seeks not a life, but a death - a death for the mysterious scarred man who murdered his daughter. And soon he learns that he is not alone. Countless others have lost someone to the scarred man. They band together to track him, but as they get closer, Connelly begins to suspect that the man they are hunting is more than human.
It is said that he who hunts monsters should take care lest he thereby become a monster, and as the chase becomes increasingly desperate, the scarred man’s pursuers are forced to choose between what is right and what is necessary.
Having come so far and lost so much, Connelly must decide just how much more his is willing to sacrifice to have his revenge.
Horror is not my strong suit, or at least not my strongest. I make every effort to give a horror novel that catches my eye a chance, but sadly they just don’t interest me very often. Mr. Shivers, however, grabbed at me, from its intriguing blurb to its well-toned cover and to the praise that has been piled upon it. Without a doubt, Robert Jackson Bennett appeared to me as a highly talented writer which should not be avoided. And so I didn’t. The result was a greatly rewarding reading experience.
Bennett plunges the reader into the very troubled world of Marcus Connelly - homeless and making his way across America chasing down his daughter’ killer. Immediately Bennett makes Connelly an engaging character for the reader. The realism of his emotional turmoil is touching, and his determination to bring justice is admirable. The plot of Mr. Shivers is simple enough that the reader can dedicate most of his attention to Connelly himself, how he evolves, how he struggles and how he attempts to unravel the secrets surrounding the elusive scarred man who murdered his little girl.
Mr. Shivers, then, is a very close, very personal novel to which the reader is bound to get attached within only a few pages until he must difficultly part with it at its end. I will admit that on the rare occasion the closeness was a bit stifling, but for the most part Connelly was a joy to follow. His encounters with things of the more mythical sort particularly so.
The novel also does not suffer any lapses in pace. Indeed, it covers much ground very quickly. Looking back on its 327 pages I am astounded that Bennett managed to fit in them such a comprehensive piece of fiction. So things move along at an earnest pace, encourage heavily by the honesty and simplicity of Bennett’s prose which makes do with telling only what is important and forgoing the fluff - probably why Mr. Shivers manages to come in at such a short page count.
This debut is one to seek out and enjoy. This thematically evocative piece is a bit higher on the literary scale than your average genre, release but in a good way - never does it feel pretentious or over done. With just this one novel, Robert Jackson Bennett, in my book, manages to establish himself as a brilliant writer and place to look to for promising future releases. Bennett has a new book coming out this April, The Company Man, which looks to be quite a bit different from Mr. Shivers, but still one to look forward to, I’m sure.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Robert Jackson Bennett's Website: http://shufflingandmuttering.blogspot.com/
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