Extremely sharp-eyed readers of this blog may recognize John Mantooth’s name from his story in Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas’s Haunted Legends, which I reviewed a few years back. Of course, since I didn’t mention Mantooth’s story in the review and since even though I am a huge fan of that collection, I myself didn’t recall his name until I stumbled on it in a Google search, you may be forgiven if you didn’t remember. In any case, “Shoe-Box Train Wreck”, which Mantooth later used as the title story in a book-length collection of stories, is an excellent primer for his debut novel. The story takes up the legend of the San Antonio Ghost Children, in which the ghosts of a busload of children killed by a train are said to haunt the tracks where they died. Mantooth takes that legend and looks for the reality underneath, asking what life would be like for the train engineer responsible for such an accident–it seems he spends his days creating dioramas of the children he killed–the shoe boxes of the title–allowing himself to believe that these representations can offer some solace to the dead and living alike. And then, at the very end, Mantooth introduces a bit of the legend itself, allowing the reader to believe that the ghosts are real.
In The Year of the Storm, the plot is much more complex, with a dual timeline, and the suspense more fast-paced, but like “Shoe-Box Train Wreck,” it is at heart a tale of tragedy and grief, lightly tinged with the supernatural. Like the train engineer, the characters cling to a belief that the tragedies of the past can be rectified. And like the ghosts, Mantooth creates a supernatural possibility for that redemption to come, here as an alternate world. Each story even climaxes with a violent storm.
All of which is to say that if you didn’t read Haunted Legends back when I recommended it, you should go read it now, if only to get an early glimpse at the themes and prose of an author who looks to be up and coming fast.
MANTOOTH, John. Year of the Storm. 309p. Berkley . 2013. pap. $15. ISBN 978-0-425-26574-1. LC 2013003379.
Adult/High School-This debut novel from a short-story writer interweaves the tales of two 14-year-old boys, 30 years apart. In the main story, Danny is dealing with the presumed deaths of his mother and his autistic sister, who simply disappeared one day during a storm. A few months later, a strange, disheveled man shows up, chain-smoking and watching Danny’s house at night. The man, Walter Pike, was himself 14 when two girls went missing from the same Alabama town where Danny lives now. Danny is desperate to believe in anything that might bring back his family, and Walter is desperate to tell his story, which involves his friend Seth, who escaped from local bullies by entering a storm cellar in the woods and “slipping” to an alternate world-a place where Walter now believes Danny’s mother and sister might be, along with the man who abducted the two girls. Mantooth ratchets up the tension as he propels the plot to a climax during another wild and destructive storm. Readers who don’t mind a little fantasy mixed with their mystery and suspense will be able to sink their teeth into this fast-paced and well-written tale of two different but equally determined and brave teens.-Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA