When bad things happen to people is it because they deserve it? When bad things happen to you do you say to yourself “What did I do to deserve this?” The whole concept of action and consequence is brought into play… At least in your mind. In the case of Michael Marshall’s protagonist in Bad Things it seems that the very ultimate in bad things has happened, his four year old son has died. As an indirect result of this tragedy his marriage has ended and his legal career waylaid.
When we meet John Henderson he is living in coastal Oregon and working as a waiter in a seaside restaurant. His is a solitary life with little to no contact with his former wife and remaining son, or, for that matter, any of his former friends or co-workers. Then one night he receives an ominous e-mail message that reads “I know what happened”. John himself does not know what happened even though he was a witness to his son’s death. Naturally he follows up the message by returning to Black Ridge where he once lived and where the tragedy occurred.
Black Ridge is depicted by Michael Marshall with an ominous sense of foreboding reminiscent of the early works of the master Stephen King. An eerily real, small Pacific Northwest community surrounded by a menacing forest with local inhabitants who seem chillingly distant and a prominent town family who seem to have local authority figures and all the townsfolk under their power. The setting in this novel is as much a ‘character’ as the human characters.
Once there, John meets up with the sender of the email message, Ellen Robertson. She maintains that the death of John’s son has eerie similarities to the death of her husband. She intimates that she is being watched and that her emails and phone messages are being monitored. John recognizes her sincerity and decides to remain in Black Ridge to discover if there is any basis to her paranoia.
John is not the only person to have recently returned to Black Ridge. Kristina has been away for a decade, but has now returned. She doesn’t like the place and doesn’t understand herself why she has made her way back to her home town. John also reunites with a former co-worker who has remained in the area, and whose history seems tied to John’s buried past.
The mounting suspense and the revelations of the plot culminate in a page-turning climax where John’s past is explained and he is temporarily reunited with his ex-wife and son. The periphery characters are tied into the revelations in a satisfying way.
More of a supernatural thriller than a mystery, this novel evokes a sense of imminent evil. The reader wonders if this is all in the mind of the protagonist somehow brought about by his sense of guilt for past wrongdoings, or whether the evil is an entity unto itself. The ending leaves the reader with just the right amount of unease and a feeling that the evil encountered in the pages of the novel could resurface at any time to dishevel someone else’s world.
I will read more of Michael Marshall’s fiction even though his novels do not follow the criteria for the mystery genre which is my favourite. After reading this novel I have become a fan of his writing style. Written with a flair for stating profound wisdoms making the reader nod his/her head in agreement, while at the same time evoking a sense of looming dread, this novel is a masterwork of supernatural suspense.