ARC Book Review: Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman

ashley | I met Josh Malerman a few years ago at a reading for his book Bird Box. It was a cool visual (or should I say, non visual) sensory experience, where we were blindfolded like the characters in the book while he read from the book. When I reviewed it, there was mention in a letter from the editor that Malerman had a musical background and I remember thinking how interested I would be in reading something that was inspired by that part of his life. Low and behold, Black Mad Wheel, where we transition from being blindfolded to experiencing an intense and body crushing noise at the center of a conspiracy in the African desert. 

Frankly, the idea of a washed up rock band being recruited by the military to delve deep into the desert to listen for a particular sound seemed akin to a group of deep-sea oil drillers being sent to drill a hole for a nuclear bomb on an asteroid, but I went with it. Malerman does an okay job at explaining this skepticism away, but it’s his craft of planting a seed of curiosity and allowing it to grow that really makes you move past that and get drawn into this desert further. He sprinkles just enough to give you a taste and at that point, you’re his.  

I have to admit I didn’t enjoy this as much as I did Bird Box, which is weird for me because I was certain a book about musicians and creepy conspiracies having to do with sound would be right up my alley. There were just too many things that worked against the overall visual suspense. The romance aspect was flat and didn’t seem authentic to me. It sort of seemed out of the blue, actually, and kind of thrown in after the fact. And the limitations of this sound, in that we don’t know much about it, really limits the events that can happen as a result. Most of the effects of the sound and the hunt for it just resulted in everyone feeling ill and vomiting, which after so many pages can start to seem a bit repetitive and redundant.  

Malerman does a great job of writing to keep you turning pages in great expectation, but I never had that climactic moment where everything hit at once, where things fell into place, where all of a sudden – BANG – I got that final payoff I was hopelessly chasing. I’m all for intrigue and mystery and ambiguity, but I don’t think the story itself was strong enough to work with a big reveal that ends up being more murky and confusing than anything else. [SPOILER] The ending also kind of ties up nicely, which I wasn’t at all expecting and is kind of disappointing in a book like this. It almost snuffed out any remotely creepy feelings that I had, the happy ending making it seem like nothing even happened at all. [END SPOILER]

I think Malerman is a great author, his books are always really unique and sensory and stimulating. I loved what he tried to do here, the idea was great and I wanted to like this book so much, but I just don’t think this came together as strongly as it could have. 

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may 23, 2017

copy provided for honest review by