ARC provided by Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review
Book: Bad Man
Author: Dathan Auerbach
Genre: Adult fiction, mystery, thriller, horror
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
My rating: ★★★
Reddit horror sensation Dathan Auerbach delivers a devilishly dark novel about a young boy who goes missing, and the brother who won’t stop looking for him.
Eric disappeared when he was three years old. Ben looked away for only a second at the grocery store, but that was all it took. His brother was gone. Vanished right into the sticky air of the Florida Panhandle.
They say you’ve got only a couple days to find a missing person. Forty-eight hours to conduct searches, knock on doors, and talk to witnesses. Two days to tear the world apart if there’s any chance of putting yours back together. That’s your window.
That window closed five years ago, leaving Ben’s life in ruins. He still looks for his brother. Still searches, while his stepmother sits and waits and whispers for Eric, refusing to leave the house that Ben’s father can no longer afford. Now twenty and desperate for work, Ben takes a night stock job at the only place that will have him: the store that blinked Eric out of existence.
Ben can feel that there’s something wrong there. With the people. With his boss. With the graffitied baler that shudders and moans and beckons. There’s something wrong with the air itself. He knows he’s in the right place now. That the store has much to tell him. So he keeps searching. Keeps looking for his baby brother, while missing the most important message of all.
That he should have stopped looking.
I first became familiar with Dathan Auerbach several years ago when he was known as /u/1000Vultures on Reddit. He wrote the serial-creepypasta series, Penpal, in the /r/nosleep subreddit. No Sleep’s subreddit has one rule: “Suspension of disbelief is key here. Everything is true here, even if it’s not.” In other words, it is a subreddit for authors to post their horror stories and readers/commenters had to go along with it. It’s a creepy good time.
Dathan Auerbach eventually published Penpal into a full length novel, and then once I heard he wrote Bad Man, I really wanted to read it. Luckily Doubleday Books reached out to me and offered me an ARC!
Bad Man begins with brothers, Ben and Eric, who are out having a normal day shopping for groceries. Ben suffers leg pain from an old injury, so he’s not having a good time shopping with his distracting three year-old brother, Eric. Then Eric disappears. Five years later, Ben ends up getting a job as a stocker in the same grocery store from which Eric vanished. Ben believes the answers to his brother’s disappearance lies within those grocery store walls.
Right away the writing style and spook-factor reminded me a bit of Stephen King. I was immediately pulled into the story as soon as Eric disappeared. Add in some suspicious coworkers, a terrible boss, and shady towns folk, and I was hooked. Not to mention the cops in town were horribly useless. Really this book had all the elements of a fantastic horror-crime story. I had a hard time putting this book down and there were so many twists. I was honestly guessing until the very end.
And even though it’s never specified, I believe the book takes place sometime in the 80’s or 90’s. An era without cell phones and digital cameras. I love books in these settings because it makes everything so much more complicated. You have no way to google police reports or snap a photo of a suspicious person on your phone. Ah, the good ol’ days.
A few things that ultimately led to a three star rating are minor. I felt like the book was too much of a slow-burn for my tastes. It felt like things really didn’t start to pick up until I passed the 60% point. Also several scenes were a bit too over descriptive for me (for example there was an entire page about fixing a cabinet, and several pages describing a baler.) I know lots of readers enjoy descriptive scenes for the world building, so I think this writing style just wasn’t for me. As for the ending, I was left feeling unsatisfied.
With my minor qualms aside, I truly thought the horror elements were strong. There were so many scary parts! Auerbach really knows how to reel us in with his creepy-campfire storytelling while still weaving in themes of brotherhood, love, and hope.
I suggest you read Bad Man with the lights off to get those extra creepy vibes.