A masterclass in atmospheric and small town horror – welcome to Goblin.
I love the use of the elements to elicit a reaction from my readers, Juniper was scorching heat, Tome was constant rain, my third book in my Juniper series will have plenty of… you’ll have to wait and see! The elements is an underused tool in my opinion, one that should be used more in fiction, it helps create the tone for a book and that’s what Malerman does here. He sets the tone.
Damn he sets it well.
Goblin rains from almost the first page to the very last, it smothers the reader – it drowns the reader and in doing so envelops us in a cold and chilling embrace that sends a few shivers down your spine.
But enough of that on with the review abs my many thoughts – I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible, so enjoy!
Prologue / Welcome
Tommy gets tasked with delivering something late at night to Goblin, his package is wrapped in secrecy and the person that’s paid for it to be delivered has a long list of stipulations that need to be adhered to. As Tommy sets off to a place he has connections with, he can’t help but think about his cargo and if what he’s doing is right or wrong and what the hells with all the crazy instructions. Does he look? Does he disobey they orders of delivery? It’s a great opening that ups the creep factor and there is one bit in this opening that had me like ‘shit, it’s going to be like that is it Malerman!’
A Man in Slices
Richard has a decision to make, a tough decision that’s summed up by this quote…
‘A priest isn’t guilty of the crimes confessed to him. And neither is a friend.’
Richard has been burdened by recent news from Charles, one of his only friends, his childhood friend whom he feels indebted to, as if it were Richard’s responsibility to care for him. It’s a friendship that was forged so long ago, back when they were children and Charles first showed up at his door. Charles has always been a little odd, a little strange, a little unhinged.
So, Malerman takes us back to their humble beginnings, to see all of what has lead to this moment unfold. How things have become what they are, to before the burden that hangs around Richard’s neck like a noose was disclosed and what he can do to rid himself of this confession.
I loved this opening novella – the way Malerman is able to introduce us not only to these characters but to an additional character Goblin itself – the town almost steals the show here and sets us up for this crazy little town and what awaits us as we press on!
Walter Kamp is a scaredy-cat, his life has become full of fear and anxiety, his home a now resembles a prison and Kamp the only cell mate or is he?
Kamp is scared of ghosts but more importantly the act of being scared to death. This fear consumes him on this troubled night and it won’t release its grip.
Malerman does a superb job here at showing us the complexities of Kamp’s fears and anxieties, so much so that at points I felt tired for him, seeing his routines and precautions acted out time and time again, but his anxiety rising even more. It was utterly gripping and I feel that the whole story taking place over one night really helped to ramp up the tension of the piece.
The introduction by Malerman of Mrs. Doris midway through helped to flesh out the story and add more weight to the proceedings. The conversation and observations Doris makes also help to shed light albeit dimly on the proceedings and mental insecurities that Kamp has. These flood the story with the right power at just the right point.
Happy Birthday, Hunter!
Neal Nash might be the best hunter the world has ever seen, he’s the top dog in Goblin that’s for sure. As the townsfolk of Goblin (both the high and the lowly) meet at his house for his sixtieth birthday party it seems that Neal is consumed with the one that got away, the one trophy that’s evaded his grasp for so long.
You see there is a rule in Goblin that you don’t venture into the North Woods, it’s more of a rule it’s a law, one that the Goblin PD and the mayor are keen to keep intact. But Neal needs something from the forest, the last beast to complete his vast collection and to catapult him above all hunters Goblin has ever known. The Great Owl.
As the party continues Neal can’t shake his desire, his birthday wish as he blew out his candles of being the first Gobliner to bag a Great Owl – and so slipping away from the party, readying his hunting buddies – he sets out from his party on a hunting party. He’s going into those woods, but what will be awaiting him when he gets there.
I loved this story, but what I loved more is how this story in particular starts to knit together the various strands of the previous novellas, and quite possibly sets some groundwork for what is to come. I love how Malerman has his characters mention these small breadcrumbs in passing, referencing characters and places and other weird things that happen in the town – it all serves in showing us that this story is just a small cog in the larger machine that Malerman has created in Goblin. And each cog is working to further progress the longer narrative of this beguiling collection of novellas.
Malerman serves up a sprawling magical tale of misdirection and the dark arts to creat a truly spellbinding coming of age tale.
Pete a young boy who is obsessed with magic discovers that the great Roman Emperor is coming to Goblin. Roman isn’t your typical magician, there are no wires and illusions, there are no top hats and pulling rabbits out of a hat – he’s the real deal, his magic isn’t as cultured as those of his peers but it’s raw and exciting and everything that Pete loves so much.
The backstory to Roman Emperor is delivered masterfully by Malerman in flashback and helps to flesh out this enigma – showcasing why he’s the very best and why the magic circle (for want of a better word) are worried about this upstart who has risen from the ashes like an illusion himself.
Malerman in this novella also helps to flesh out more of Goblin, we again are treated to more rain, which comes into the story toward the final third, helping again to add the feeling and the emotions of the final act. The additional fleshing out of parts of Goblin helps to give the reader more of the place that has become our stomping ground, and adds in small pieces of the jigsaw that’s being assembled before our eyes – the only problem is we are still none the wiser to the image on the jigsaws box, what is Malerman conjuring behind these stories and where will it all end?
A Mix-Up At The Zoo
Dirk – he works at an abattoir (slaughter house and the zoo – he’s an oddball, someone that doesn’t fit in but also someone who feels that he has a higher calling in life, and when he starts working at the zoo people start to notice that Dirk is different, in the way he is, the way the public see him and in the way the animals react to this gentle giant.
It’s not my favourite novella, I felt it dipped in certain places as Malerman details Dirk’s decline into mental illness, but having said that there is still so much to enjoy and appreciate in Malerman’s storytelling and prose. The descent into madness is especially masterful and it reminded me of Taxi Driver and Travis Bickle – the slow burn that leads to a complete and utter madness was expertly out across.
The horror of this story is rampant and the dream sequences that are littered throughout send a chill or two down the spine – their so creepy one can’t help but be affected by them, it’s not just the Goblin rain that makes you feel cold to your marrow in this story!
Since the start of this book Malerman has been leaving us breadcrumbs, he’s been dropping little tidbits for us to savour and hanker for – and in The Hedges we get to feast on the banquet that he’s been preparing the whole time.
In this story we find out more about the mind behind the topiary that’s appeared in many if not all of the stories, we find out about The Hedges (which grace the cover in a hedge maze) we discover the mind behind it all – Wayne Sherman.
Wayne Sherman created the hedges to deal with grief, to do something to honour his late wife – in creating The Hedges – Sherman has written himself into the local lore of the town, he’s crafted something truly magnificent from the ashes of his life. But what resides at the end of the maze and what did the young girl Margot discover when she became the first person to traverse the maze and why is she going to the police?
What I loved about this story are all the small nods to other stories as we reach the stories conclusion – it’s as if Malerman is putting a bow on the top of this wondrous present of a book. I also loved that we get to discover more about the strange police force that operates in Goblin – they’ve been mentioned throughout and it was something I desperately wanted to know about, and in this story we find out exactly what goes on behind the uniform and the aviators.
This for me is the best story in the collection – but that might be because of all that came before, either way it’s bloody faultless in its execution and brilliance.
Epilogue: Make Yourself At Home
We jump back to Tommy and his special delivery to round off this novel of novella’s and what an ending – the epilogue is short, but what I’ll say is damn!!!
Malerman delivers one hell of a book, one I thoroughly enjoyed, the crafting of a town, townsfolk and local lore is something I love and when I started this I expected great things, and Malerman delivers with a masterful turn… Goblin is alive and as strange as it is, I want to visit!
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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