When Marcus Connelly’s young daughter Molly is brutally murdered by a scarred man in a long grey coat, he embarks on the path of vengeance, determined to find the criminal and ‘set things right’. It’s the height of the Great Depression, and Connelly travels across a ravaged America by rail, mixing freely with the hobos of the nearby encampments. There, he encounters others who are in search of the same scarred man, known to all as Mr. Shivers. They form an unlikely band, with nothing in common but the goal of killing the one who’s harmed them.
Their journey lead them across the dust bowl, where they meet fortune tellers, carnies, murderers, and a bloodthirsty sheriff. They also arrive in a happy, prosperous town under what seems to be an very strange spell.
At first, much of this seems implausible and even contrived, but as the story continues, real cities like Memphis and Chicago transform into a nightmare-like landscape; the characters are not what they seem; and what’s unlikely becomes strangely believable.
Connelly ultimately faces Mr. Shivers in a cave deep in the earth and proves what we’ve known all along: the path of vengeance leads to nothing but more evil—nobody can cheat death.
Mr. Shivers, the fine debut novel of Robert Jackson Bennett, slips between genres. At its centre is a crime, but it’s far too poetic to be classified as a straightforward crime novel. It’s too intelligent to be strictly horror, and not plot-driven enough to be considered a thriller. It manages, however, to combine elements of all of these—as well as an interesting twist on allegory—in order to create a dreamlike story that is abhorrent, terrifying, and all too real.
Mr. Shivers, Robert Jackson Bennett, Orbit Publishing.
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in March 2010.