Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed Malerman's first novel Bird Box and picked up on the See no Evil, Hear no Evil vibe going on between both of these novels, looking even more toward the next which will have to be a Speak no Evil one or I'm going to give up on reviewing anything forever.
That being said, oh so melodramatically, I wanted to like this particular Hearing Evil novel much more than I did. All the setups in 1957 with a rock band getting propositioned by the US Government on a super secret project was delightful. The back history was great. Unfortunately, I wasn't all that impressed by Philip.
He was the ultimate English Patient, too, filled with a long recovery and memories in a prolonged reveal, and while the base story was damn interesting and the waits were well worth it, I still didn't connect all that much with the MC. Maybe I've just been spoiled by some recent excellent authors. Maybe it really is the MC. Either way, it reduced my overall enjoyment. Things happened to him. A lot. And while he does get some actions on the page, it wasn't all that satisfying.
Great concept, somewhat middling execution unless it is meant to be a riff on old movies and novels all the way down to the style and devices. And if that was the case, then I'd have to say it succeeds. Nurse falls in love with a patient and notions of duty conflicting hard with personal limits. There's even a cool number of old-style scares, both hazily scientific and religious, all of which feel very period.
I'm not complaining. Seen from a certain viewpoint, this is a very successful novel in that it captures a very specific feel. Unfortunately, that feeling may or may not be agreeing with me. Nor, I presume, with a few others. Honestly, it feels like a partial modern novel, cherry-picking classic tropes and killing it with clever newish ideas and sealing it with a solid mystery-horror vibe, all the while falling into the trap of awkward pacing and lack of agency.
Like I said, I wanted to like this more, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy it... because I did. I was fascinated for grand stretches of the novel and the promised reveals drove me on. The core is all sorts of wonderful. :)
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