By Terri Schlichenmeyer
You swore you’d never do it. But you did. In your mind, there was a line you’d never cross. Something you wouldn’t or couldn’t do. An act. A purchase. A relationship, or something you couldn’t abide. It wasn’t for you and you weren’t doing it. Then you did it, and you ended up eating those famous last words.
What does it take for a person to do something he never imagined himself doing? In the new book “Mr. Shivers” by Robert Jackson Bennett, it took the loss of his child for Marcus Connelly to chase evil.
Word was that nobody was going west, yet jalopies headed that way all the time, filled with people in search of a job or a new start. Walking was slow, jumping a train was dangerous, but it was always possible to hitch a ride with a friendly stranger. It was the Great Depression, and it seemed like everybody was going somewhere. Marcus Connelly was going after the gray man.
Connelly was a husband, a father and happy. Then the gray man killed his little girl, his Molly, and Connelly could hardly stand to live. He vowed that the gray man with the tattered coat and the stench, the one they called Shiver-Man, would pay. But it wasn’t going to be easy.
No matter where Connelly went, Mr. Shivers was two steps ahead. In hobo camps and Hoovervilles, people said they’d seen him but he vanished like smoke. Even when Connelly hooked up with other men seeking the mysterious killer, the Shiver-Man was elusive.
But Mr. Shivers had friends, and some of them snatched Connelly and his comrades, imprisoned them and hurt them bad. Escaping from a horrifying jail, Connelly realized two things: Shiver-Man was afraid of Connelly. And Mr. Shivers wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The hunter was suddenly the hunted.
As Connelly passed from Oklahoma to New Mexico — or was he in Colorado — he knew that the Shiver-Man was watching, but there was no way Connelly was going to stop his mission. Because the question remained: Can someone kill Death?
Set in the Dust Bowl years — yet slightly futuristic — “Mr. Shivers” lives up to its name, if, that is, you can keep your focus on the novel and ignore the near-Shakespearean prose that overpopulates its pages.
Bennett makes readers of this thriller uneasy almost from the outset, so squirmy are the situations in which his characters must pass. I liked how Connelly, a decent man before his daughter’s death, becomes a monster despite himself and it’s hard waiting for the inevitable nastiness to happen to him.
But wait you must, as you slog through monologues that are in stout need of an ax. I truly enjoyed this story, but I could have withstood way less verbosity.
Still, for a debut novel, “Mr. Shivers” ain’t bad. If you want to read an unsettling, albeit wordy tale, that will have you checking behind doors and avoiding dark rooms, do it with this one.
Terri Schlichenmeyer collects books, tigers, trivia and book bags. She has also been accused of collecting dust now and then.