Karl Malone’s Crypt of Terror

The Mailman by Bentley Little (1991): Like several Golden-Age science-fiction writers, Bentley Little’s style is plain while his ideas and plots are baroque and sometimes nearly absurd. This makes him the most interesting of contemporary American ‘plain-style’ horror writers. I honestly never know what paths his novels will take to their conclusions. Or what those conclusions will be.

The Mailman is about as ‘normal’ a horror novel as Little is going to write. A stranger comes to town and Bad Things Happen. That’s the set-up for a lot of horror over the years. Hell, that’s the last two-thirds of Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

In the course of the novel, however, Little does a couple of things differently: he evades any and all explanations for why a seemingly supernatural, malevolent mailman is threatening a small Arizona town, and he has the townspeople realize very early on that something is really, really amiss. The novel’s about (increasingly inexplicable) apathy in the face of mounting evidence, not the more standard ‘wait for the evidence’ plot. Why don’t people act in light of overwhelming evidence? Good question.

The characters, especially the father, mother, and 11-year-old son whom the Mailman seems especially obsessed with, are keenly and sympathetically drawn. Little’s prose is about as basic as prose can be, and he’s got the unfortunate tic of using actor-shorthand to describe people (“He looked like Broderick Crawford”). Nonetheless, a more-than-competent horror novel, and one with a fascinatingly odd choice of villain (even moreso now than in 1991 when The Mailman came out, obviously). Recommended.

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