Book review: Mr Shivers

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Mr Shivers.

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Publisher: Orbit

Marcus Connelly is hunting the man who killed his daughter, driven by the conviction that one act of vengeance can put his shattered world to right. His target is a scarred man called Mr Shivers, a figure who haunts the tales of campfires like a malicious spectre, and as Connelly closes in on his target, he finds he is not the only person searching for Shivers with murder in mind.

Set during the Great Depression, Robert Jackson Bennett’s first novel is one of desperation among dark times. Connelly pursues Shivers across the Mid-West, jumping freight trains for transport and forever on the lookout for clues of his target’s passing – murder, angry mobs, misery. Bennett’s style is one of magical realism. There are hints of supernatural forces at play that build as the story unfolds but the author never loses touch with the harsh backdrop of the Depression. Entire towns have been emptied as the winds strip away the topsoil and Connelly’s hunting ground is a world on the brink of collapse.

The tone starts grim and only grows more stygian as the cost of catching Shivers inexorably climbs higher and higher. The final twist in the tale is not particularly original and is easy to see coming down the line, but that is outweighed by the strength of the writing. Bennett’s prose grips like a chokehold, with taught, bloody bursts of violence and a superb description of the terror of watching a dust storm blot out the sky. In Bennett’s hands, the very country seems infected by Shiver’s loathsome presence – “Somewhere a train whistle moaned like a man dreaming under a fever.”

This is an impressive, menacing debut that marks Bennett as a new talent to expect great things from.

[isbn name=”Mr Shivers”]978-1841498577[/isbn]