Review #5: The Dead Man, Volume 1 by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin
The Dead Man, Volume 1 is a collection of three short novellas: Face of Evil, Ring of Knives, Hell in Heaven (each about 100 pages). They are placed as consecutive chapters, presented as one novel. This makes for a bit of a disjointed reading experience, as each is a totally unique story.
Matt Cahill is a small-town lumberer, whose wife passed a few years ago. He’s working on healing his pain, while also managing his asshole best friend, Andy, and a growing crush on his office manager, Rachel. Matt and Rachel go on a romantic ski weekend, where he is buried in an avalanche, and presumed dead. Three months later, his body is found, inexplicably alive! Matt makes a bold escape from the medical hospital intent on researching him, and finds that he has developed some intense perceptual abilities. Namely, he can see evil in people… literally, he can see their faces rotting from the inside out from evil. He is also stalked by the sadistic, supernatural character, Mr. Dark, who seems to be the only one with answers to Matt’s resurrection and new “talents.”
This is the backstory provided in the first novella, Face of Evil (see what they did with the title there? Subtle…). This story sets the stage for Matt to become a drifter, hitch-hiking across America, determined to get to the bottom of what’s happened to him and rid the world of evil. The second story, Ring of Knives, follows Matt as he seeks answers at the world’s most f-ed up mental institution. In the third, Hell in Heaven, he (seemingly) serendipitously stumbles on a small town stuck in the past.
I found these stories interesting, even if disjointed. Matt is a sweet guy, and I wanted the best for him, but at the same time I felt he could have been developed more. I also found it a bit odd that only his axe and his death carried through between the stories. The whole plot point about him escaping the hospital (in the first story) is dropped. There is no mention of Rachel after the first story and no mention of what happened in the mental institution in the third novella. In fact, at some point it is mentioned (in the third novella) that Matt has developed some relatively quick-healing powers since he was resurrected and that this is the first time he’s needed to use those powers… yet, in the second story he was beat up several times and cut with a knife. In other words, there was some lack of continuity and dropped plot points that were a bit distracting. Also, Matt’s quest for information from the second story, is totally dropped in the third, and Dr. Dark barely is a presence in this one. I do feel as if each story can stand on its own, which is both a positive and a negative.
Each story also had some gore and horror, to differing levels. While the first story was gory, it didn’t feel like a HORROR story. The second story was horrifying, gory, and gross from beginning to end. The third was gory, but in an almost comical way. Again, it felt hard to predict what I might get from each story… another positive and negative. Looking on Amazon, it seems there are at least 15 of these novellas with multiple “volumes” of several novellas each. I am kind of curious to see what Matt will be up to next, and if there will ever be a true connecting thread/theme across the novellas, but not sure if I’ll buy more of these unless they go on sale again.