Pub Date: May 23, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A once famous but now struggling music group called The Danes are working on their comeback album. They are visited by a representative from the military who gives them a mission; to find a mysterious sound in the Namibian Desert. He plays the sound to them and it has disturbing effects to say the least. But the band's leader Philip Tonka and the rest of the band accepts the assignment egged on by a nice monetary arrangement. Aided with a few military people, including a controversial and demoted officer, they go in search of the sound.
Now lets take a look at a problem right here. The idea of the military choosing musicians on a such a mission is farfetched to begin with. Realistically it is difficult to think what a musician can bring to a expedition in the desert that a team of highly trained officers could bring even if the band leader Philip does have some military training. This would have been enough to derail the less talented writer. Yet Malerman has already hooked us before this. From the beginning, we know that Philip was found in the desert with every one of his bones broken. He is in a mid-western American hospital and is healing at a supernatural speed. However the hospital personnel may not have the most altruistic of motives in healing him. Phillip's only ally and friend turns out to be a nurse named Ellen and it is her developing connection with Philip that fueled a lot of this tale.
The chapters alternate with the events in the hospital and what happened out in the desert. Eventually we do get a sense of what is going with the sound more than we do with sight in Bird Box. But like Bird Box, this is not a straight forward tale of horror. There is a reason for the sound and that involves a number of areas including science fiction and psychological horror. But it is hard to label the author's imagination in this one. His works, including the simple and short The House At the Bottom of the Lake are all about our perceptions of the phenomena that is thrown at us. While there is plenty of horror in this novel, the author is more interested in the psychological and emotional effect involving the one perceiving it. I like that.
Black Mad Wheel didn't bowl me over like Bird Box. I suspect few novels ever will. Yet Black Mad Wheel is still more involving and disturbing than most of the more visceral ones out there and it is easily a contender for best novel of the year in any genre. I do wonder if Malerman plans to visit the next two senses. I can easily envision a four book loose series unrelated in actual plots but comprising the four senses. I can only wait and see and hope.