The Bad Box by Harvey Click

The better the book, the harder it is for me to review.  This one is making me work extra      hard. Buy it here for $2.99 and the adrenalin rush will far outlast the price of a coffee.

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{{ Buried alive – shudder! }}

QUICK SYNOPSIS: Sarah Temple leaves her abusive boyfriend and moves into an apartment complex in the worst part of town, where her neighbors include a tough little one-hundred-year-old woman who packs a pistol, a quiet ghost of a man, and a mysterious woman of the evening who hasn’t quite mastered high heels on stairs.  Men come to visit the sexy blonde upstairs, but like the roaches in that pesticide commercial, they don’t always check out. When Sarah finds out why, she has to move again. Not only her ex-boyfriend but now a sick, sick, sick serial killer are out to get her. Worse, a mysterious Solitary One controls both stalkers. He’s “a living darkness, a man and yet not a man, something that’s alive and yet not alive, something that wants to appall the world.”

The One knows why children have been buried alive in a “bad box,” and only The One can restore life (if you can call it living) to his favorite little victim of child abuse (found, oops, dead in a box). He fails to anticipate another child’s psychological defense mechanism, dissociative identity (multiple personality) disorder, but I can’t tell you more. It’s plausible, it’s sadly believable, and it’s simply brilliant.

I don’t even like the horror genre, but the same theme that led me to that horrible horror story “Demon Frenzy”–a sister who lost a brother–grabs me again here, even though the cover art of The Bad Box is more horrifying than this one:

I surely would not have peeked under a * worse* cover {{ buried alive – shudder! }}, but other readers dared me with comments like these:

Harvey Click can tell a story, and he’s definitely given horror readers that elusive “something different” which is positively brilliant. –Amazon reviewer

It’s hard to talk about this book without fear of giving away important details, and I don’t want to diminish anyone’s pleasure (or is it agonizing torture? ) of reading this story of constant surprises. –Amazon reviewer

If I find myself brushing my teeth and making coffee one handed because I’m carrying my e-reader around, the writer is doing something well. –-Amazon reviewer

“Several horror cliches present themselves, but are handled in unexpected fashion. One thing I like about Harvey Click’s stories is he is able to write about characters far different from his own point of view. So many authors have characters that seem to have the same opinions and persona as their creator. Click’s character’s are always fascinating,and often not someone you’d care to be stuck in an elevator with.” –Amazon reviewer

Ha. I don’t even want to catch myself holding these characters metaphorically in a book in my hands, much less meet them in an elevator.

The list of great lines is too long to excerpt, but I’ll start by noting that Sarah’s little brother is described in pitch-perfect detail. When she meets Darnell, ” … his eyes reminded her of the cool waters of the creek where she and Johnny used to play.” Beautiful. So is her recollection of Johnny: “I came into this world with an attitude, and I’ve been on the warpath ever since. But not Johnny. He was like the sun.”

Sometimes Sarah perceives (imagines?) that his presence lives on. Darnell raises the psychological explanation of wish fulfillment, but Sarah can’t buy that: “… a thousand times I wanted him to be there but couldn’t conjure him up. He comes when he comes.”

Darnell has also lost someone, but he confesses something sinister to Sarah: “The spirit that haunts you is made of sunshine. What if it were made of something not so friendly? Darkness . . . dreadful sounds . . . things that groan in the night?”

I wanted to see Johnny show up in the novel when he’s most needed,  but like the centenarian neighbor and her gun, the best of minor characters all too often make cameo appearances only.

One of the minors does get a fair amount of stage time, which pleases me greatly. Howard, the gay friend, has so many great lines. A fully realized character, he deserves his own novel, and more chances to come up with “clinical” terms like “assholelopithecus.”

Even the villains get great lines: “Eyes are just peepholes. So are ears. The brain’s a wonderful device, but mostly it just processes information from the peepholes. Materialists imagine that without our bodies, there’d be no sounds or sights or thoughts. But we … ” (sorry, you need to read the rest of it firsthand!)

The One notes, poignantly, that “one didn’t age gradually, but rather in fits and starts. Suddenly one was aware of being much older than the last time one had noticed.” Anyone over age fifty who happens across photos from college might suffer the same shock.

Some great lines about guns, especially from anti-gun lobbyists when forced to use one:

“This baby holds five rounds of .357 Magnum.”

“Jeez,” Sarah said. “Isn’t that some kind of Dirty Harry small nuclear device?”

Soon, she feels the lure of being armed and dangerous: “In a few minutes she would be as powerful as any man” and “Tonight she would sleep with the gun beside her bed, knowing it would be more than a match for whatever might crawl through the window.”

Or not.

You’ll laugh, but not for long:

“I’m armed. I have a big gun, a .352 Magnum.”

He had gotten the number wrong, he realized. What did they call those things?

“It’s loaded,” he said, his voice a kind of wail in the damnable hush.

Horror novels and thrillers rarely interest me, but once again, Harvey Click kept me spellbound. His characters are not boring, predictable, stupid and therefore disposable (a trope of the genre, in my experience). They’re erudite. They’re funny. After theorizing about the unthinkable events, someone says “a theory like that wouldn’t get you published in Headshrinker Quarterly.”

Then, the really poignant observations: “… mental illness is probably the ugliest damn trick God ever pulled on mankind,” he said. “You’re much better off with cancer.”

The prose also gets poetic and metaphysical: “… shadows always remained the same. These were the same shadows that Solomon had gazed on; these were the shadows that had danced on the walls of caves while hunters huddled beside their fires. The truths in these shadows were the same ones that the ancients had glimpsed, truths that the earliest men had seen, their restless brains piercing the deep riddles with apelike eyes before glittering toys had blinded them.”

I love this: “Her perceptions were turned up so high that any little thing could thrill her, maybe a clump of goldenrod or a cloud in front of the moon. But there’s a downside to that–things most people would find a little irritating she found downright painful. There’s no way to describe her, really. There’s no one else like her.”

Fans of magic and fantasy will also find something to love here. The villain sounds like Deepak Chopra, thinking “how closely linked the fabric of the universe was to the human brain that watched it. Science was plodding ever closer to the truths of magic, but only a handful of scientists had the imagination to recognize how close they were.”

A minute later, the villain, annoyed by a woman’s look of horror on seeing him in public, casually “planted a deep pain in her stomach that might soon turn to cancer.”

Some other great lines: “There were vectors of gravity everywhere, vectors pulling from the sun and moon and planets, even from the stars, and a true adept could use these vectors to swing through the air like a monkey swinging through trees on vines.”  

One of the best: a villain pictures the long chain of treachery stretching from him to the villain who helped cradle (mentor) him, “to whoever stood behind that one, each adept sucking his power from another who in turn sucked it from another” with the line going back to before Lucifer was “locked raging inside the box called Hell, for even Lucifer’s dark power derived from the earliest moment of time, a fraction of a second so brief that one needed 34 zeroes to express it, that moment of inflation when the single unifying force split into three and a shadow fell on the texture of spacetime, and from that moment came entropy and the decay of the proton and all murders and all wars and all sorcery and all treachery.”

If that’s purple prose, purple is my favorite color. (Seriously.  My bridesmaids wore purple. In 1988, when the color wasn’t even “in.”)

Some scenes in this novel are even more lurid, graphic, horrible and impossible to un-see as the ones I complained about in Demon Frenzy. “Carnography” is the word for it, coined in 1972 by Jack Scow in his Time review of David Morrell’s “First Blood.” Let me tell you, anything you read or saw Rambo do is child’s play compared to the carnography of Harvey Click.

With that in mind, I dared to email this horror-writer named Harvey. With surprising civility and grace, he replied: “People do some unbelievable things while under the influence of angel’s dust and some other heavy drugs … In the late 60s there was a group of drug-addled idiots who used power saws to cut large holes through their skulls to give their brains some ‘breathing space.’ They lived, for better or worse.”

Now you’ll have to read the novel just to get to the part about a certain someone’s naked, pulsating brain. Harvey emailed: “That’s the part that even I can barely stand to read. I had to write it with my eyes closed.” (Bwa ha ha! He sounds like me!)

I can’t believe I’m praising a novel so dark, so lurid and depraved, but Dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder) is thought to be an effect of severe trauma during early childhood, usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. You should read more about this. I feel as if everyone on the planet should read Harvey Click novels just to glimpse the depravity that human souls might sink to if they suffer child abuse. Bless the beasts and the children.

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Harvey Click, author of Demon Frenzy and The House of Worms, earned an M.A. in English from Ohio State University, using his first novel as a master’s thesis. He has written five novels, four of them in the horror genre, and numerous short stories. He has taught English and creative writing for Ohio University, Ohio State University, the James Thurber House, and OSU’s Creative Arts Program.

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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5 Responses to The Bad Box by Harvey Click

  1. John L. Monk says:

    Reblogged this on John L. Monk and commented:
    I knew him when… A masterpiece.

    Like

  2. John L. Monk says:

    You write such incredible reviews. I wish I could. This one’s especially great because it’s by my 1) favorite reviewer, and about 2) a favorite author.

    Like

  3. carolkean says:

    John, thank you, but the #1 reason you don’t write these reviews is that you are WRITING your own novels, while I review rather than revise, polish and publish. Partly it’s the ADHD; partly it’s the occasional character putting on the brakes, not letting me publish slander (“Slander, I say!”), or not letting me go to press without getting more of the spotlight on them. (No, Ethel, you don’t get a prequel. Sorry.) By the way, I love your judicious use of pronouns, John!

    Like

  4. carolkean says:

    Harvey, your cover artist is phenomenal. Michelle Garrison, I see. Is this the same artist? http://michellegarrison.carbonmade.com/about

    Like

    • Michelle Garrison says:

      Great review and thanks for the complement on my cover work. Your link is for another artists named Michelle Garrison. I don’t have a site for my work and that is one similarity Harvey and myself share with regards to our artistry. We are both obscure and a bit under the radar when it comes to our talent.

      Like

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