In Matthews’ (Revelation, 2015, etc.) sci-fi-tinged thriller, a string of bizarre events leads a psychologist to an alarming secret that he may not live long enough to expose.
Dr. Bradley Jordan has his share of hurdles in the small town of Rock Mills, Michigan. He works with a troubled young patient, Doug Belle, and he’s not quite over his wife Toni’s infidelity from six years ago, even as they try to conceive a child; then he’s almost killed in a car accident, which certainly doesn’t help matters. Later, he and Toni discover nearby Emersville, a quaint city full of touristy shops. There, a store owner, Annabelle St. Crux, has an apparent seizure in front of them while muttering cryptically about, among other things, her hatred of water. Brad purchases a Raggedy Ann-type doll named Thumbkin at the store, which unsettlingly seems to stare at him with its button eyes. Later, Brad finds a strange, metallic item hidden inside it. Toni adds to Brad’s unease by mentioning a “Green Queen” who “wants the world” and then promptly forgetting that she said anything about her. When Brad brings Thumbkin to his office, Doug is inexplicably hit with an electrical surge. Shadowy figures subsequently attack the psychologist at his house, looking for the doll. Soon, other people go missing, and Brad and his detective pal, Frank Swinicki, believe that answers lie in Emersville and its strange, unblinking townsfolk. The author peppers his tale with hints of science fiction, such as Brad’s dream of perpetually sailing in outer space. Still, much of the fun is in the story’s uncertainty; is the eerie Thumbkin, for example, making cinematic images appear in Brad’s head, or is he merely remembering movies about dolls that scared him as a child? As the revelations stack up, Matthews amps up the violence, making the story consistently unnerving. This tension diminishes a bit after it becomes clear what’s actually happening, although the main characters effectively remain in danger. Readers will likely surmise most of the final act’s revelations before they occur, but the plentiful plot turns still offer a few surprises before the unforgettable open ending.
An unsettling tale that downplays its sci-fi elements to great effect.