From J. H. Markert, the author Peter Farris calls the “clear heir to Stephen King,” Mister Lullaby brings our darkest dreams and nightmares to life.
In the vein of T. Kingfisher and Christopher Golden, the boundary protecting our world from the monsters on the other side is weakening—and Mister Lullaby is about to break through.
The small town of Harrod’s Reach has seen its fair share of the macabre, especially inside the decrepit old train tunnel around which the town was built. After a young boy, Sully Dupree, is injured in the abandoned tunnel and left in a coma, the townspeople are determined to wall it up. Deputy sheriff Beth Gardner is reluctant to buy into the superstitions until she finds two corpses at the tunnel’s entrance, each left with strange calling cards inscribed with old lullabies. Soon after, Sully Dupree briefly awakens from his coma.
Before falling back into his slumber, Sully manages to give his older brother a message. Sully’s mind, since the accident, has been imprisoned on the other side of the tunnel in Lalaland, a grotesque and unfamiliar world inhabited by evil mythical creatures of sleep. Sully is trapped there with hundreds of other coma patients, all desperately fighting to keep the evils of the dream world from escaping into the waking world.
Elsewhere, a man troubled by his painful youth has for years been hearing a voice in his head he calls Mr. Lullaby, and he has finally started to act on what that voice is telling him—to kill any coma patient he can find, quickly.
Something is waking up in the tunnel—something is trying to get through. And Mr. Lullaby is coming.
First and foremost, a big thank you to the author for the ARC!
Existing in the same universe as Markert’s previous novel, The Nightmare Man, Mister Lullaby continues to broaden a unique mythology. While this novel is not necessarily a sequel, there are numerous mentions of the events and legends presented in The Nightmare Man that supplement this story and convey the epic conflicts at hand. You don’t necessarily have to read The Nightmare Man, but I strongly recommend it (also because it’s such a fun time).
The town of Harrod’s Reach has been plagued with a strange set of occurrences surrounding a train tunnel for as long as anyone can recall. People enter the tunnel and don’t return, there are lots of severed limbs recovered, and even one child, Sully Dupree, fell into a deep coma following an injury related to the tunnel. While the townsfolk had sealed the tunnel to keep these incidents at bay, the bricks were literally starting to crumble. If you think that’s weird, things grow even stranger when two bodies are found near the tunnel with distinct signatures and references to lullabies. Of course, these events coincide with Gideon Dupree’s (Sully’s older brother) return home from his time in the military, and his childhood best friend, Beth, is now a deputy sheriff. With the help of other townsfolk, Gideon and Beth work to determine why the strangeness around the tunnel seems to be escalating, especially once Sully briefly awakens from his coma. Told from multiple perspectives, the town of Harrod’s Reach proves to be the epicenter for an unseen war, one that’s soon to be brought to the frontlines.
J.H. Markert has established himself as a crafter of unique, creative horror. Starting with The Nightmare Man, this idea of sprawling, distinctive mythology surrounding dreams and nightmares is conceived within the realm of the modern world. The manifestation of the collision of horrific nightmares and realistic events consists of unique crimes, namely gruesome murders. This theme continues in Mister Lullaby and can be marked as one of its defining characteristics. The big bad in this novel, Mister Lullaby himself, is set on exterminating a number of coma patients in addition to carving his way through the world at the behest of the voice he hears through a seashell. Sounds a bit out there, right? In the wrong hands, this villain could come across as wacky or kooky. However, Markert manages to make this particular villain and the dozens of others that we meet downright horrifying. The chapters told from Mister Lullaby’s frame of mind are gritty and carry a distinctive tone of wickedness. The horror aspect of this novel truly shines in these passages, delivering a skin-crawling perspective.
The spacious, frightening world-building through this evil characterization is not the only commendable aspect of this novel; the pacing is quite quick with an unknown urgency fueling events until some mysteries begin to be solved. Being exposed to many characters’ points of view allows us to observe the wide array of weird happenings and crimes unfolding across Harrod’s Reach as well as the internal and personal struggles of Beth and Gideon. Honestly, I wish I had MORE strife from those two as we delve into their childhood and current association. With understanding just how much is at stake in Harrod’s Reach, I found myself racing toward the conclusion, desperate to know the fate of these characters.
Truthfully, I hope the conclusion of this novel is indicative of a continuation of the exploration of this world plagued by nightmares, dream realms, heroes, and monsters. In hurdling towards the end of the novel, I found myself asking so many questions and seeking so many answers. Ultimately, things seem to be wrapped up in a bit of a cliffhanger which leaves me desperately wanting more. There are numerous directions stories such as these can unfold, and given the entertaining tales explored in The Nightmare Man and Mister Lullaby, I’ll happily continue to keep reading J.H. Markert.