MR. HANDS by Gary A. Braunbeck

Take a grieving parent, a summoned monster, and a demand for vengeance that doesn't end when the one calling for it wants it stopped, and you have.... the movie Pumpkinhead. Almost 20 years later you also have Mr. Hands, a horror novel from Gary A. Bruaunbeck that follows the movie's plot with some disturbing child abuses tossed in for little purpose.

Following a prelude of a man climbing a mountain and a woman firing a shotgun, a haggard man walks into a bar with a deformed-looking doll (stubby legs, large hands) and begins telling an unbelievable story. Fortunately for him, the three people there -- a bartender, a sheriff, and a reverend -- say all the odd items on display have an unbelievable story, so they'll listen without judgment or disbelief. (I wonder if they answer all the spam they get on their computers.)

Anyway, the man's story primarily involves two people. Ronnie kills children -- but he's a nice killer of children, as he can sense their pain (past and future) and can put them out of their misery; he sometimes kills their abusers too. Lucy Thompson has a hellishly hard life, having lost one child, having a second child abducted (leaving behind her doll, Mr. Hands, with her blood on it), and becoming obsessed with killed and abused children. When (far too late in the book) there's a meeting between Lucy, Ronnie (or his ghost, or spirit, or something), a storm, some booze, that doll, and a really weird memorial statue, a monster emerges! Really, what else would happen? Mr. Hands is now a giant that kills anyone Lucy tells it to, and he can only be seen by her and his victims. But when Lucy makes a mistake, she finds that she can't call off the creature she helped create.

There's very little to recommend in Mr. Hands. The characters are hardly believable, and Braunbeck's dialogue feels artificial. Moreover, the descriptions of abused children don't add or build to the tension; they just leave an uncomfortable feeling with the reader. (The added novella Kiss of the Mudman also disappoints, as it has the good buddies from the bar dealing with the ghostsly icons of dead rock stars. Seriously.) The monster is neither original nor creative. Forget the doll, and forget the book -- neither are that scary.

Overall grade: D-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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