Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Date of Publication: November 21st, 2023
Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Supernatural, Adult, Mystery, Suspense
From J. H. Markert, the author Peter Farris calls the “clear heir to Stephen King,” Mister Lullaby brings our darkest dreams and nightmares to life.
In the vein of T. Kingfisher and Christopher Golden, the boundary protecting our world from the monsters on the other side is weakening—and Mister Lullaby is about to break through.
The small town of Harrod’s Reach has seen its fair share of the macabre, especially inside the decrepit old train tunnel around which the town was built. After a young boy, Sully Dupree, is injured in the abandoned tunnel and left in a coma, the townspeople are determined to wall it up. Deputy sheriff Beth Gardner is reluctant to buy into the superstitions until she finds two corpses at the tunnel’s entrance, each left with strange calling cards inscribed with old lullabies. Soon after, Sully Dupree briefly awakens from his coma.
Before falling back into his slumber, Sully manages to give his older brother a message. Sully’s mind, since the accident, has been imprisoned on the other side of the tunnel in Lalaland, a grotesque and unfamiliar world inhabited by evil mythical creatures of sleep. Sully is trapped there with hundreds of other coma patients, all desperately fighting to keep the evils of the dream world from escaping into the waking world.
Elsewhere, a man troubled by his painful youth has for years been hearing a voice in his head he calls Mr. Lullaby, and he has finally started to act on what that voice is telling him—to kill any coma patient he can find, quickly.
Something is waking up in the tunnel—something is trying to get through. And Mr. Lullaby is coming.
Deputy Sherriff Beth Gardner had only been on the job for two weeks when Simple Simon walked inside the station with a chainsaw.Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert
Important things you need to know about the book:
Pace: Mister Lullaby’s pace is fast. The book takes place within a week of Gideon’s arrival home after being honorably discharged from the Army. I was iffy on the pace. The author threw a lot of information at me at the beginning of the book. I had to reread specific chapters. If the pacing had slowed down a little, started at a medium pace, and then amped up, I could have processed the information better.
Trigger/Content Warning: Mister Lullaby has trigger and content warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:
- Mental Illness (graphic, on and off page)
- Violence (graphic, on page)
- Murder (graphic, on page)
- Gun Violence (graphic, on page)
- Rape (graphic, on page)
- Grief (graphic, on page)
- Fire (moderate, on and off page)
- Bullying (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
- Racism (minor to moderate, off page)
- Alcoholism (moderate, on and off page)
- Anxiety and anxiety attacks (moderate and off-page)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (moderate to graphic, on page)
- Blood (graphic, on page)
- Gore (graphic, on page)
- Body Horror (graphic, on page)
- Coma (graphic, on page)
- Dead bodies and body parts (graphic, on page)
- Loss of autonomy (graphic, on page)
- Homophobia (moderate, on and off page)
Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Mister Lullaby. It is not graphic.
Language: There is graphic swearing in Mister Lullaby. There is also offensive language used in various parts of the book.
Setting: The Before part of Mister Lullaby is set between Harrod’s Reach, Nebraska, and Lalaland. The Then part of Mister Lullaby is set in Harrod’s Reach and wherever Teddy drove the bus.
Tropes: Chosen One, Emotional Scars, Reluctant Hero, Dark Lord, Good vs Evil, Childhood Friends, Monsters, Humans Can Be Evil
Age Range: I recommend Mister Lullaby to anyone over 21.
Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):
The night Gideon arrives home, his younger brother, who has been in a coma for three years, wakes up and starts shouting names. Why he shouts out names confuses his family until Maddy shows up in town. Her explanation is crazy: Sully is trapped in a nightmare land called Lalaland. There, he is struggling, along with other coma patients, to keep the monsters inhabiting that world from bleeding into this one. But something is wrong, and the king of these monsters, Mister Lullaby, is trying to break through. While trying to process the information he has been told, Gideon and his best friend, Beth, are stunned when prominent figures in the community start showing up brutally murdered. Can Maddy be believed and trusted? What is happening in town? Can Gideon and Beth protect their loved ones and the townspeople from the evil trying to come through? Or will they fail?
Deputy Sheriff Beth Gardner: I didn’t know how to feel about Beth. On one hand, she was a great police officer and rose to the job when the Sheriff was attacked. But, on the other hand, her personal life was a mess. She was friends with Gideon and Jax. But her friendship with both was not equal, and it showed. She sided more with Jax (who was awful in the flashbacks and the present day) than Gideon. Even during the storyline, she didn’t treat Gideon like an equal. The use of his nickname, Giddey Up Gideon, was used as a way of putting him in his place. But she was determined to protect Sully at any cost when push came to shove. What she did at the end of the book was very selfless.
Gideon Dupree: I liked him, but he was so damaged that I thought his character wouldn’t rise to the occasion. He was bullied relentlessly throughout school and beyond (Giddey Up Gideon referenced how he ran). He blamed himself for Sully’s accident even though he had nothing to do with it (it did happen while he was watching him, though). And his Army career left him with even more scars. But, by the middle of the book, I saw something shift in his character. It happened when Maddy came to town, and it evolved. By the end of the book, even though he was still damaged, Gideon had come into his own.
Theodore Lomax (aka Teddy): Teddy’s character sent chills up and down my spine. He was a serial killer who had a very troubled and trauma-filled childhood. He had a voice in his head, called Mister Lullaby, that was instructing him to kill coma patients. Teddy also killed other people for fun. But Teddy realized the voice wasn’t a figment of his imagination until he bought a bus (which he named the Lullaby Express) and started picking up random people. It was real. His end game was to go to Harrod’s Reach and set those random people loose while he searched for the name at the top of his list, Sully Dupree. He was evil personified, and I couldn’t think of a better antagonist for this book.
Maddy Boyle: I liked her character. But I did wonder what her connection to Harrod’s Reach would be and what would happen once she got there. I liked how she was like an envoy to Lalaland (having been there herself). She was able to convince Gideon and then Beth about the dangers that were coming out of the train tunnel.
Simple Simon: I went back and forth on including him as a significant character. I decided to have him as a central character because of his actions in the book’s second half. Simon knew a lot about what was going on with Lalaland bleeding through, and he was a massive factor in the events that went down at the end of the book.
Sully Dupree: The whole storyline is centered around Sully. He was still a powerful force even though he never woke up and talked. I can only get a little into what happens with him because of spoilers.
Mister Lullaby was one of my most looked-forward-to-read books. I had seen it featured on other blogs and was thrilled when Crooked Lane Books sent me the widget. So, when it was finally time for me to read it, I dove right in. I finished the book liking it but was disappointed by it simultaneously (thus the star rating).
Mister Lullaby has various POVs. Not only that, but the author also split the chapters into Before and Now. The author labeled each chapter with who it focused on and whether it was Now or Before. But I got lost while reading. I would backtrack to determine when the chapter occurred (the who part was obvious). It frustrated me but not enough to DNF.
The main storyline of Mister Lullaby is good, and I find it fascinating. I liked that the author tied his previous books into this one. It made for an interesting read. But, sometimes, I lost sight of the storyline (Sully, the train tunnel, Teddy, Gideon, Beth, and Maddy). There were so many secondary storylines thrown in (some I feel were to fill in empty plot holes) that my head was turned around. Did I need to know why Jax was such a dick? Or why did Beth marry him? Not really (even though it was sad). That stuff could have been left out or mentioned in passing. Another example was the chapter with Chimp and the weird fish. My head was spinning by the end of the storyline, and I couldn’t keep everything straight.
The storyline with Teddy and his collection of serial killers was interesting. Unlike the main one, this storyline was tight and kept to just the storyline. The only time it deviated was toward the end of the book, but even then, it was all right.
The horror angle of the book was well written. I want to warn everyone that it is bloody and violent. I did jump during some scenes, and in others, I had to read gagging.
The end of Mister Lullaby did disappoint me. It seemed very rushed. The final battle was almost anticlimactic (compared to what was happening around them). I also needed clarification on why Beth did what she did. There were storylines left in the air. I also have not received a resolution about what would happen to the town or the aftermath. They might have plans for another book in this universe (or even a sequel). I also have an answer as to why the book’s ending was the way it was. The author explains everything in the acknowledgment section after the end.
Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and J.H. Markert for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Mister Lullaby. All opinions stated in this review are mine.
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