by Robert Jackson Bennett
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Orbit Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316054683
Date: 15 January 2010 List Price $19.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It's the Great Depression. Drought has forced thousands to pack their belongings and head West for employment. Marcus Connelly is also heading West; however, he is not searching for work, he is searching for vengeance. A mysterious man/creature known as Mr. Shivers killed his daughter, Molly. As he travels West, Connelly meets others who have had friends and relatives murdered by Mr. Shivers. Soon, Connelly is leading an entire posse in search of this mysterious killer. During their travels across dry, rugged terrain, they must battle evil forces that have sworn to protect Mr. Shivers.
Mr. Shivers is a creepy historical horror novel from newcomer Robert Jackson Bennett. It is set during one of our country's darkest time periods, the Great Depression. The name conjures terrifying images of a literal Hell on earth. Starvation, desolation, loneliness, fear and cruelty. However, there is also the warmhearted side of human nature that is revealed when strangers try helping one another.
Many will assume that Mr. Shivers is the Devil made flesh in this Hell on earth. He wantonly kills the innocent and tempts humans by offering them protection from the Great Depression. It is the classic theme of good versus evil, a battle that has been waging since the dawn of mankind. Perhaps Mr. Shivers has always existed among us, waiting to rear his ugly head when we become depressed both physically and spiritually.
Mr. Shivers is a violent, Satanic version of The Grapes of Wrath. I kept thinking this is the type of novel Stephen King and John Steinbeck would've written during a collaboration. I read The Grapes of Wrath during high school when I studied the Great Depression. It was a novel that greatly disturbed me. Mr. Shivers disturbed me even more.
Characters who are very similar to Mr. Shivers have appeared in many of King's novels. Most notable of them is Randall Flagg in The Stand. He is Satan in human flesh. A plague has decimated the earth's population and Flagg organizes the evil survivors and orders them to destroy those who are righteous. Mr. Shivers also reminded me of Andre Linoge in King's film, The Storm of the Century. Linoge is an evil creature, many centuries old, who makes a bizarre request of the citizens of Little Tall Island, Maine, which has been cut off from the rest of the world by a blizzard. Mr. Shivers also reminded me of Leland Gaunt in King's Needful Things. Wherever he travels, Gaunt causes destruction and mayhem; people are willing to sell their souls to him for the treasures in his store.
Hollywood has made innumerable films about hideously evil creatures that resemble men. One of my favorites is Jeepers Creepers. This creature has rejuvenative powers as does Mr. Shivers. My favorite science fiction horror series, The X-Files, contained similar creatures as well. There was the episode titled Squeeze where the mutant creature Eugene Tooms ate livers in order to hibernate every thirty years. Reading Mr. Shivers also brought back memories of watching Race with the Devil. Two vacationing couples witness a human sacrifice. While racing across the desert in their RV, they encounter numerous witches who try to stop them from reaching the authorities. Connelly and his friends also experience similar problems. People from all walks of life are aiding and abetting Mr. Shivers.
Marcus Connelly, a large, friendly man, is the novel's protagonist. One can't help but cheer him on as he desperately tries to find his daughter's killer. However, the question that he and the reader inevitably asks themselves is: Will he be able to kill Mr. Shivers? Three elderly black sisters (who represent the Fates) prophesy that Connelly will. The reader must be made aware that Mr. Shivers' identity is never fully explained and the ending is rather obscure. This novel, however, is rich in symbolism and though it is not religious, it will make the reader question how they would react in dire circumstances. Would you sell your soul to Satan for food to eat, for longevity, for green grass, to have things as they are for all time? Temptation seems to be a recurring theme, specifically, how one reacts to it.
Mr. Shivers is a fast paced horror ride that is a must read for all horror fans, especially those of Stephen King. With its creepy, dilapidated farm houses and abandoned fields; its haggard, prophesying witches; and its legions of undead, this novel is Gothic horror at is best. While reading it, I was struck with the fear that the dustbowl might occur again. A few years of drought and our country could experience another Great Depression. Would Mr. Shivers rear his ugly, scarred face and begin another reign of slaughter? Perhaps Mr. Shivers, or a similar monster, will make an appearance in one of Robert Jackson Bennett's future novels. I can hardly wait to find out what nightmares he has in store for his readers.