Mr Shivers by Robert J Bennett
Just finished reading Mr Shivers by Robert J Bennett.
I recently read the Troupe by RJB and loved it so made the decision to go back and revisit his earlier works. Strangely enough I already had Mr Shivers sat waiting on my shelves which is his debut novel (I really must take a better look at my wbr pile!)
Mr Shivers is set in 30s America during the depression. It’s primarily the story of Connelly. Connelly’s daughter has been murdered and he is bent on revenge and is following the murderer across America during the Depression. Along the way he meets up with other people whose lives have been equally affected by this strange person who becomes known as Mr Shivers and who are equally hell-bent on revenge.
I thought this was an intriguing story made more compelling by the use of setting. I haven’t come across a lot of stories set during this period and it was interesting to read about. I have no idea about how accurate this work is but it read well and I have to say that Bennett is a great story teller. The opening chapters are excellent and really pull you in and keep you reading. It’s a gritty novel. Gritty and dark. There aren’t any fun moments going on to be honest but given what these people are going through and the lives they are reading you wouldn’t expect there to be. There’s violence and profanity all over the place but none of it feels out of place or gratuitous. As we follow Connelly’s journey across the country, hitching rides on trains and sleeping rough we gradually start to gain more of a feeling for Mr Shivers and he really is quite a horrifying creature who is gradually built up, through word of mouth and stories along the way, into something more than just a man – something evil and untouchable.
What I thought was really interesting about this story was watching a group of (ever expanding it seemed) characters come together in pursuit of the same goal. And yet, for me, all of them seemed oblivious to the fact that they were setting themselves on a road to self-destruction. Along the way a couple of characters realised that they were becoming less than human as they pursued their own objective but most of them continued and frankly it was quite horrible to simply watch them become almost monsters themselves.
Then we have Connelly who is a character that you can’t help but like to a certain extent. He isn’t perfect by a long stretch but he’s strong and forceful. He has a certain presence which is undeniable and undoubtedly he is a leader who the others look up to and follow. The other characters I don’t think you ever really have a chance to become too involved with. It’s the Connelly show really. Well, that and Mr Shivers.
In terms of criticisms. Well, there’s a bit in the middle where for some reason the story isn’t quite as compelling. The beginning is really great. The middle is a little stilted and I can only put this down to the change in tack really. During the middle we seem to go through much more of an action period which somehow sat a little bit ill with the rest of the story. And then the latter half of the book changed direction again taking on a more eerie supernatural feel. Yes, this book is a mixed bag. Now, I actually enjoyed this – I liked the whole supernatural feel that was taken on but it’s not for everyone I imagine. The only other criticism is that I could see what was going on between Connelly and Mr Shivers. Not immediately I confess, but once I’d seen it everything else had a certain feel of inevitability to it, not necessarily a bad thing, I’m just saying.
Other than that I thought this was a good read. It’s dark. It’s a bit horrible. It’s definitely creepy. It has elements of the unreal to it. Are there witches? Are there ghouls? Does the Bogeyman exist? Maybe….
I would recommend this, I don’t think it’s as good as The Troupe, but for a debut novel it’s pretty damned impressive. I love a good storyteller and will definitely go seek out The Company Man next – then I’ll be waiting to see what RJB does next – no pressure of course!