Mr. Shivers – Robert Jackson Bennett

About the book

It is the time of the Great Depression.

Thousands have left their homes looking for a better life, a new life. But Marcus Connelly is not one of them. He searches for one thing, and one thing only. Revenge.

Because out there, riding the rails, stalking the camps, is the scarred vagrant who murdered Connelly’s daughter. No one knows him, but everyone knows his name: Mr. Shivers.

In this extraordinary debut, Robert Jackson Bennett tells the story of an America haunted by murder and desperation. A world in which one man must face a dark truth and answer the question-how much is he willing to sacrifice for his satisfaction?

Published on: January 15, 2010

Published by: Orbit

Author’s webpage

This book was provided for review by the publisher.


A few nights ago I had the following conversation with my husband late at night when he was trying to go to sleep:

Him: What are you doing?

Me: Reading. Shh.

Him: It’s almost midnight.

Me: SHH!!

Him: You’re going to be tired tomorrow.

Me: I don’t care. I can’t stop reading this book. I physically cannot do it. It’s the best book I’ve read in months. Shh!

Him: Okay, well, goodnight.

My husband doesn’t read books. He told me once that the last book he read was probably a Goosebumps book in fifth grade. He just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what comes over a voracious reader when they are faced with an absolutely amazing book. First the book sucks you in. Then it conquers your will to do anything but read. That’s what I faced this weekend. I didn’t care if I didn’t get any sleep at all; I had to devour Mr. Shivers. I had to. There was no other option.

While a lot of people loved American Gods, there were plenty of others who said that it was dull. There are reviews I’ve read where people expected so much from the book but came away bored and said that road trips weren’t interesting. I missed that boat. I thought the book was amazing, and not the least bit boring or uninteresting. Maybe I just have weird taste, but I really tend to enjoy books that are a bit subtler, a bit more profound and a bit more atmospheric. There are times when I want to be slapped with action, and times where I want to read about haunting inner journeys as well as outer ones.

There is a parallel with Mr. Shivers and American Gods. Both focus on traveling. Neither is filled with Joe Abercrombie style action. Both books will appeal to people who prefer something a bit more subtle and a lot less gory or romantic than plenty of other books out there. Mr. Shivers is a book for people who appreciate depth and atmosphere – sprawling worlds and quiet transformations and while there is action, and it can be quite gory, it doesn’t define the book.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Robert Jackson Bennett isn’t a bigger name in SF&F. Bennett has won a ton of awards for this book, and as far as i can tell, he deserves every last one of them.

As I mentioned above, Mr. Shivers is incredibly atmospheric. Bennett peppers his book full of bone chilling descriptions, and every inch of it is perfectly thought out. For example, the setting is in the dried up and dying Midwest during the Great Depression. For anyone who has traveled, or lived, in the flat Midwest, it’s easy to picture this area – vast, sprawling and completely dead from drought. Even if you haven’t been to the area, you’ll be able to picture it. Bennett’s descriptions are incredible and really bring the area to life. The fact that he set his book in this area, at this time, was an incredibly calculated, and perfectly planned move on his part. The setting itself tells a huge story and Bennett’s use of the impressively large hobo culture, the drought and the huge, flat area will really set an incredible eerie, almost hopeless man-against-the-world tone.

In the back of the book, Bennett talks about how he specifically used the hobo culture in Mr. Shivers because it’s basically untapped, and that’s the truth. This is, perhaps, the first book I’ve read where hobos are featured – the men that hop the trains in hopes for a better life elsewhere. This constant travel aids the plot, but it also keeps the reader from becoming overly attached to any one area, and focused solely on the characters. However, Bennett did his research. I actually learned quite a bit about hobos, and the dust bowl from Mr. Shivers – far more than I expected to. These small details he peppered throughout the book helped the work blaze to incredible life in my mind.

Mr. Shivers focuses on the story of Connolly, a man who lost his daughter tragically and his quest for revenge. It’s his quest for revenge that I found so incredible, because, while the quest itself is very obvious, the subtle changes and transformations that overtake Connolly throughout the book are much less so. Connolly himself isn’t much to talk about. He’s a man of few words and the reader never really knows much about him. There is one flashback and some brief discussion of his previous life, but nothing else. Connelly exists for revenge, and that’s really all you need to know about him. He is full of mystery and this mystery allows the reader to fill in their own blanks and make Connelly whatever they want.

However, in the end it’s Bennett’s incredible descriptions and his ability to bring this very stark, lonely, every-man-for-himself period of history to life for the reader. It’s his descriptions that resonate with me long after the book was finished. His use of the Great Depression, hobo culture and the Midwest really added some incredible atmosphere to Mr. Shivers. Yes, this is a subtle book and no, Connelly isn’t the most compelling character in all of creation, but he doesn’t need to be. Mr. Shivers is a story about revenge and Bennett’s skill with the written word is capable of chilling even the most jaded reader.

5/5 stars

P.S. I have to admit, Mr. Shivers put Bennett solidly on my list of authors whose books I must buy as soon as they are released.

3 Responses

  • thanks, Sarah,.

    Between you and Justin and others, even if the overt subject matter doesn’t interest me, I might have to reconsider that.

  • Dan J.

    Thanks, Sarah. From your description, this book sounds like a historical fiction, a psychological horror at the most. As a spec fic fan, why should I be interested int his book?

    • BookwormBlues

      I would consider it mostly horror, but there is a bit of mythology blended in there for good measure. I didn’t touch on it because I wasn’t sure how I could without giving away any of the plot.

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