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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Books - Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

Star rating – 8/10

This is a first novel full of raw emotion – hatred, revenge, dogged determination, and pain. It is also a story that conjures up shifting moods. It starts with a broken young man, Marcus Connelly, who has left his wife and is headed for the American west in the time of the Great Depression after the murder of his young daughter. He is indeed a man on a mission, to find and kill the man who did this terrible deed. But it is no ordinary mission, the extent and horror of which is revealed bit by bit as the book unfolds.

Robert Jackson Bennett is a great descriptive writer. He conveys the swirling dustbowl brilliantly, along with the destitution and desperation of those headed on the long, usually fruitless road to find work and something to put in their empty and ravenous bellies. Connelly’s loneliness and desperation are evoked beautifully as he finds himself alone under the stars. The images depicted are at first like a brutal Clint Eastwood movie, then the story veers into a much more gothic, mystical tale of the elemental forces of good and evil.

Connelly is in search of a very distinctive, badly scarred man, and he soon finds that he is not the only one. Other seekers have similar tales of horror at what this man-monster has done to them and their loved ones. He collects a straggle of fellow travellers, and loses some again along the way. For he must find and destroy the man at all costs. But just who is this Mr Shivers? Is he a monster or the devil himself?

I couldn’t wait to read on in anticipation of the next move, the next encounter, and the final denouement. It is a very well written first novel, and stirs up profound feelings of the power of good and evil. It is just a shame that the dust jacket gives away that Connelly is seeking revenge for the murder of his daughter. This is not revealed until a way into the book and would have been so much more powerful if it had stayed that way. Bit this is a minor quibble. Jackson Bennett is certainly one to watch, and if his descriptive powers are anything to go by, he will produce more profound, chilling works yet.

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