Crooked Lane Books ($19.99)
by Ryan Tan
In J.H. Markert’s The Nightmare Man, a serial killer called The Scarecrow terrorizes the fictional town of Crooked Tree. He is so called because of his habit of posing as a scarecrow in his victims’ cornfields. When they approach to investigate, he runs away. This continues for the next two days, until he catches them as they approach. His modus operandi derives entirely from a horror novel written by the protagonist, Ben Bookman, a citizen of Crooked Tree. The lead police investigator, Detective Mills, suspects Ben of being The Scarecrow; his distrust of Ben is strengthened by the disappearance of Ben’s brother thirteen years ago, which Mills also investigated. It remains an unsolved case.
Engaging vignettes end each chapter; each one is narrated from the point-of-view of one character, giving us a glimpse into their life. Compared to the main story, the vignettes contain less dialogue and more exposition; without conversations to break up description, the writing flows more smoothly, and Markert’s talent for character building shines.
Markert also successfully imbues each character with a distinctive manner of speech. We become so familiar with each of the character’s voices that if their names were omitted from a conversation, we would still be able to identify them by their unique diction. One character who shines in dialogue is Ben’s nine-year-old daughter, Bri, who expresses innocence and astuteness at the same time. When she converses with another character, she defines herself against them, developing not only her own individuality, but also theirs. And since dialogue dominates The Nightmare Man, this refinement of their personalities occurs over and over, such that by the end of the novel, each character is fully fleshed out.
With powerful characterization surrounding a central mystery, The Nightmare Man is an entertaining read for horror and suspense fans.
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