Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Posted On 20 September 2018

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badmanI completed Bad Man a week or two ago but didn’t want to review it straight away as I wanted to think on it some more, particularly the ending, and give myself some room for thought.  I’m glad that I took the time for reflection because to be honest I didn’t enjoy the ending at the time and I think it left me a bit unsure about how I felt.  Having taken some time I can say that this story gets certain elements spot on but I do have a few niggles.

The TL:DR version is that I think this could have been shortened to keep it a bit more punchy, and, I don’t think I’d call it horror – yes, I understand that a little boy going missing is horrible, horrific, your worst nightmare even – but, for me, putting a horror label on this story felt a little bit off, or, not off, but it had me expecting the story to go in a different direction than the one it went in.  What I would say is this is a tense and suspenseful thriller about a horrible crime.

At times the emotions are so rife that you could cut a slice straight out of the atmosphere and serve it up on a plate.  Basically, the key event upon which the whole story hinges is any parents’ worst nightmare – but, to be clear this isn’t horror in terms of blood curdling gore, creepy things that lie in wait under your bed wearing a ski mask and ending in a gruesome slasher type of murder spree.  There are no supernatural monsters here or ghosts or ghouls.  I think maybe it’s my own perception that is at fault because when I see ‘horror’ I immediately think of the above type of scenarios and so ultimately find myself with skewed expectations.  My own fault really.  That being said, if you go into this read expecting less supernatural horror and more grimdark thriller I think you’ll be closer to the mark.

The start of the story is gripping.  We read along as Ben recounts the day that his three year old brother Eric went missing.  These opening scenes make completely compulsive reading, my heart was in my throat and even though I knew what was going to happen (read the blurb) I couldn’t help acting like a kid in a theatre wanting to shout warnings at the innocent protagonist who is blissfully unaware of the menace looming in the background.  These opening scenes are just chock full of emotions.

Now shoot forward five years.  Eric was never found and his family have suffered the sort of collapse that you would expect in the wake of his disappearance.  Ben’s stepmother never leaves the house, she keeps Eric’s room like a shrine.  His father struggles to make ends meet and is barely making the mortgage and Ben himself has been in a car accident that left him with such serious injuries that even now walking is painful for him.  In an attempt to help the family Ben searches for a job but the only one available is at the store in which his brother disappeared.  Fate can be cruel – but Ben is out of options, he needs a job and at the same time, providing he remains unrecognised, he thinks this will provide the perfect opportunity for some do-it-yourself detecting.

What I really enjoyed about this novel was the way the author plays with your emotions.  He can surely write a scene that will have you gripping the book, knuckles white because you’re so tense.  The sense of despair is palpable and the mystery of what really happened is the key motivation to set you off racing through the pages.  Where did Eric end up, is he still alive, will Ben ever find him or have the closure that he so desperately longs for?  Curious minds want, nay need, to know.

The setting is also really well done.  Set in a town that is itself struggling with the decline in jobs and the subsequent rise of crime and poverty.  There is again an overwhelming sense of apathy or misery about the place.  It all feels very gloomy and helps to really set the scene.

Now, my criticisms.  There are a lot of red herrings thrown into the mix here.  One part of me thinks the author was trying to portray Ben as a ‘headless chicken’ running around mindlessly chucking out accusations.  Which in turn led the detective in charge of the investigation to wash his hands of Ben – he’s too much trouble, too ready to point the finger and cause pain to others.  So, I think the intentions were good but the result felt a bit meandering and it ended up pulling me out of the story a little or just feeling pointlessly mystified – particularly when I eventually reached the ending which had something of a rushed feel.  I came away feeling disappointed and not really knowing why.  I didn’t think the mystery was clearly resolved and I had issues that felt open.

Again, on reflection, that original disappointment has lessened, I’ve given the ending some more thought and in context of the actual title even had a little light bulb moment.  But, and perhaps I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer and I can admit to that, – even though my pondering has resolved some issues I still have niggles that remain.

Overall, I enjoyed this, definitely enough to check out this author again.  His writing is impressive and apart from this feeling a little bit bloated in places it’s an intriguing story – in fairness though, the jury is still out about the ending.

I received a copy through Edelweiss courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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