New Finds


A Depression-era father searches for the scary, scarred man who murdered his young daughter.

Book Cover Robert Jackson Bennett’s novel Mr. Shivers (Orbit) made its way into the scrum of books that have taken over the room where I sleep. I am not aware of anything previously written by Bennett or what prompted me to procure the book from his publisher. Or, over this past weekend, why I picked it up. However, I am happy to report what unseen forces were at work coalesced in a happy accident.

Contextually we learn that it is the time of America’s first Great Depression, and if you know the history or have read or seen Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, you know that countless thousands of Americans have become nomads in search of relief. Mr. Shivers’s protagonist, Marcus Connelly, has joined the throngs of hobos and drifters, but for a substantially different reason. He has left a secure home in Memphis, Tenn., riding freight cars and tramping across the country in search of the man who murdered his daughter Molly. We also learn that this man, whose face is disfigured by obvious scars, is something of a phantom known, as Connelly learns, as Mr. Shivers.

Two-thirds of the way into the story, Connelly is locked up in a jail run by a sadistic warder where he meets the scarred man:
The gray man charged forward, his long white hands grasping out, but they stopped inches away form Connelly’s neck. He saw the scarred man struggle, face contorted like he was pulling against some unimaginable force. He shuddered but then withdrew, his chest heaving, a sheen of sweat across his pallid brow.

“I could,” said the gray man. “I could. I clearly wish to. But there are rules. There is order… Natures which cannot be denied.” He looked down on Connelly. You will die here. If you follow this path you will be destroyed…”

The gray man turned to walk away. He opened the iron door and as he stood in the hall light he looked any tramp again, just a tired old tramp with a ruined face.

“I want to know something,” said Connelly.

The gray man looked back, his expression inscrutable.

“I want to know why you killed my little girl.”

The gray man cocked his head. There was no thought in his face or posture. He regarded Connelly for a second and said, “So that she would die.”
Robert Bennett is a skillful writer brandishing a descriptive flair that serves this narrative well. The story probably would not have suffered had it been abridged slightly—but of all the qualities of any novel I would offer that length may be the most subjective. Nonetheless, however far you get in this 300-plus-page book, I expect it will have been worth reading.

By the way, for what it is worth, Mr. Shivers has one of the most enticing and adventurous web sites I have come across. Have a look.
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