Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Category: Horror
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Revenge Western, Steinbeckian (sp?!) Americana and supernatural horror blend to fantastic effect in this very successful debut novel. Don't miss it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 1841498572

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Marcus Connelly, a quiet, reserved and private man, has recently joined the mass of humanity travelling west in search of work. It's the Midwest in the 1930s and the Great Depression is in full swing. The dustbowl is a desperate place and there's none more desperate than Connelly. But Connelly doesn't need a job and he has a wife and a home. Connelly isn't missing prosperity; he's missing his daughter, and he's in search of the man who killed her.

This man is mysterious but his face is marked by unmistakably horrific scars and as he travels, Connelly finds he is not the only man grieving loved ones. Mr Shivers, it seems, leaves nothing but death in his wake. And so Connelly teams up with others like him and they track the killer right across the states, picking up more and more alarming stories as they go. Mr Shivers is known by more than one name and as the mythologies surrounding him unfold, Connelly begins to realise that his quarry may be more than human. How far will Connelly go to pursue his revenge? Will he betray his friends? Will he sell his soul?

Wow. I loved this book. I haven't read any horror since forever, so I'm not really up with how the genre is going. Mr Shivers, though, isn't pure horror, and if you're after blood and guts straight from the get go then it probably isn't for you. In fact, Bennett seems to have fused so many genres that he has succeeded rather well in elevating his book above the norm for all of them. The overall feel is of a revenge Western, with poor Connelly's original devastating loss getting overlaid by more and more losses as he closes in on retribution. And we all know what a dreadful cycle that is. But there's also some Steinbeck in the wonderful portrayal of dustbowl and hobo society during the Great Depression and there's a real sense of Americana about it. Then, of course, there's the supernatural thriller-come-horror, which is muted at first and comes almost languorously to the fore - Connelly is not an impulsive or hasty man and the book's pace perfectly matches his very internalised character.

In fact, in casting about for something I didn't like, I'm rather lost for words. I loved the writing, which is stylish and quite understated, although the visual elements become stronger as the supernatural narrative comes to the fore. There are no purple passages. The dialogue is absolutely wonderful with a great deal said in admirably few words - and again, this mirrors the very private central character who is frozen in grief. There's an overwhelming sense of inevitability pervading the entire book and while its denouement is fairly obvious from about halfway in, it does nothing to alleviate the horrible, horrific tragedy of it all. And the whole thing comes in at under 350 pages - a huge thumbs up for tight and focussed storytelling from me.

I think Orbit have a hit on their hands.

If contrition rather than revenge is your thing, you could try Brother Odd by Dean Koontz.

Booklists.jpg Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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Buy Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett at


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