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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars

on 2 November 2017
Pleased with book
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This debut novel ambitiously aims to blend American gothic, historical grit and the sinister, surreal otherworldliness of a menacing modern-day myth. The sparse text veers towards the literary end of the spectrum, where the author establishes the narrative dynamic and the emotional context for the increasingly unsettling scenes, but lets the reader’s imagination fill in the fine detail.

Mr Shivers begins as a latter-day western might, with wronged wanderers who meet on the road in pursuit of a scarred stranger. This could easily have been a straightforward revenge romp, but author Robert Jackson Bennett chose a much broader canvas. The story is set in the Great Depression, in the terrible dustbowl conditions which saw crops fail and families starve amid mass migration. A ragtag band of semi-starving misfits forms, driven to desperate deeds by the gruesome actions of the man they pursue. The story could’ve been a straightforward social history, an exploration of the survivors’ emotional loss, but then the plot takes an altogether more ominous turn as events become increasingly uncanny.
The author’s writing style means that some of the characters are less well defined bit-players, almost incidental cannon fodder. Even the three or four core characters are stripped back to their essential selves – there’s no fluff in this book, no unnecessary elaboration as the ‘good guys’ gradually unravel during their quest.
That said, there are several deftly drawn scenes of powerful poignancy when, for example, the protagonist Connelly has the opportunity to walk away from his awful purpose, to step back into human society. Later, when he can’t recall the colour of his dead daughter’s eyes, this seems all the more sad.
There's more thoughts on plot and character at murdermayhemandmore.net
If you’re not fond of road trips or quest novels, and if you prefer your horror to be painstakingly described rather than delivered through suggestion and understated implication, then Mr Shivers probably isn’t for you. There are moments where, like any quest, it sags under the weight of the repeated hardship of the road. Also, the finale is pretty well telegraphed throughout the final third of the book and the outcome was no great surprise to me, when Connelly and Mr Shivers performed their final showdown.

But perhaps that’s as it should be: this is a modern day myth, after all…
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on 4 January 2011
This is a fine piece of writing, it moves with pace and purpose but gives the reader a vivid image of the dust bowl hobo existence and the desperation of men and the loss of the percieved value of life. The book lacks genuine tension because we are aware that Connelly and co are chasing something unreal, a manifestation of evil that acts as both an allegory for the failings of mankind and is of course a reflection of the violent and souless times.

There are too many characters and several of them merge and cause confusion in the middle of the book, there are echoes of Homers Odyssey and many literary and cinematic homages, from Stephen king to the Coen brothers, which is fine but can get a little frustrating as you unpick the portents, predictions and visions of the various women in the novel.

The violence is sporadic but well done and the prison scene is particularly powerful and is the point the book is at its best. The ending is slightly predictable (It didn't need to be so, there are the signature marks of post rationalised chapters/paragraphs of explanation having been inserted) and as a result takes longer to arrive than strictly necessary but the dissent of the righteous chasers is well done.

It is thought provoking and it is well written, but it is a first novel and the clever references, irony and subtext is over done a little and the publisher should have had more faith that the reader would make the cinnections without so many sign posts. It was enjoyable though and I will read more of this author and would happily recommend it to all.

Steevan Glover

The Frog and the Scorpion
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on 3 March 2011
A very absorbing read i really enjoyed this book and found it really atmospheric, it transported me to the american mid west and as an avid reader of Dean Koontz and Stephen King, i found it a good alternatiive. Would definatively recommend and will be getting more books from the same author.
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on 8 February 2016
This was o.k, far from great.

The story revolves around a group of disparate and desperate individuals who band together to chase 'Mr Shivers' across 1930's dustbowl America to avenge those who he has murdered.

There are positive aspects to this book: firstly, the author has created what I feel would have been an accurate snapshot of the time and place; desperation, unemployment, drought, lawlessness and hard people. The book also reminded me of the Gunslinger and Of Mice and Men (as others have mentioned) and while it's inferior to both, at least the author attempted to convey a cautionary tale which is pretty well explained and illustrated; I found the ending satisfying.

However, even though the book is short - just over 300 pages- it's very boring and repetitive at times. There's a fair amount of characters but none (and I mean none) have any depth, show any growth or are at all likeable. Terrible things have apparently happened to them but it was difficult to feel any empathy for them. Each character was simply an interchangeable mouthpiece and used to respond to or ask questions of the dour and dull (and horrible) main Character Connelly.

That said, there was something about the writing that made me feel this author might improve over time so I'll give him another chance.

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VINE VOICEon 18 November 2010
From the reviews thus far, Mr Shivers seems to represent a near-as-damn-it perfect horror novel, but I would like to ship in a dissenting voice.

Firstly claims towards its orginality are rather undermined if one recollects the HBO series Carnivale, which was basically a mythic road trip set in the Great Depression where two characters - strangely similar; one ostensibly good, one ostensibly evil - share a destiny upon which the fate of the world hinges. Some of the elements of the book - the strange town with a secret, the images of future apocalypses - mirror parts of Carnivale quite closely. Frankly I'm surprised that other reviewers have not drawn this comparison.

Secondly, while the prose is terse - and that's a good thing - this does lead to some confusion as a number of hobo characters are introduced who become hard to distinguish. Furthermore the kind of descriptive language one might expect in a fantasy/horror evocation of a nebulous, desolate world is largely absent. The temptation for debut authors is to overcook the florid sentences; I think Mr Bennett has gone the other way, which makes Mr Shivers a quick read, but its world strangely unconvincing.

Thirdly, as the plot/fable reaches its climax, I was in full head-scratching mode. So what's this about exactly? Is it about anything? The last thing I saw that had me react in that way was The Matrix trilogy as narrative sharpness descended into empty, pretentious mumbo jumbo. I don't think Mr Shivers is as bad as that, but tension is sacrificed for a resolution that has no resonance beyond the under-drawn world that Mr Bennett has created. Others will disagree and maybe I'm just not getting the thematic linkage to - what - regeneration, decay, American history of the Thirties, the Cold War whatever. I just know that at the end, I thought 'oh good grief.'

On the positive side, this is thought provoking - obviously - and it's never boring. The set-up is strong (especially when the taciturn central protagonist Connelly realises there are many others seeking Mr Shivers) and the dark presence himself - and how he's woven into 'hobo legend' - is just about the best bit of the book.

However I prefer simpler, less mannered horror tales. For example, Dan Simmons' Carrion Comfort and Blatty's novel of The Exorcist - both of which explored similar dark themes, but were a lot more accessible and direct.
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on 29 October 2009
During the Great Depression, Marcus Connolly has left his wife in Tennessee behind and, like many others, has taken to the road, hopping freight trains, heading west. Unlike most of the other hobos he meets along the way however, Connolly isn't looking for work or for a place with better prospects to settle down - he's looking for a man, a gray man with a horribly scarred face who has stolen something important from him. He's not the only person looking for the scarred man however, there are others who have their own terrible stories to tell of their encounters with the man who legend has come to know as the shiver-man, and each are just as determined to stop his progress across the country leaving terror in his wake, and kill him, if indeed he is even human at all...

Set during the time of the Great Depression and taking place in the heat and dust of the American dustbowl, the period and the location of the Robert Jackson Bennett's novel is an unusual one for a dark horror story, yet there's something that feels wholly appropriate in the sense of death and decay, in a populace determined to confront very real basic issues of survival, in hobos who have lost everything gathered around a camp-fire telling their own stories of lives that have been torn from them. Not only does the author find it an appropriate means to express these issues in a simple, restrained, yet menacing style that resonates with the horror classics, but he also successfully manages to give the story of Mr Shivers a heightened mythological dimension that gets to the heart of the nature of revenge, of war, of death and its relationship with America - past, present and future.
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on 12 July 2014
I read this having just finished 'The Troupe' , which I thought was wonderful. This came as a disappointment.

I understand the dreadful conditions that people had to withstand during the depression and it's relevance as the backbone of this book, but I really felt the author overplayed it. It became repetitive and tedious - a bit like the literary version of wading through treacle.
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VINE VOICEon 24 November 2010
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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on 22 March 2016
Having read the quite brilliant City of Stairs I have been working through Roberts back catalogue.

I enjoyed this one and it's well written but it feels hugely...predictable.

Still, one for Bennett completists.
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