When Bird Box hit the horror scene three years ago, readers discovered a new voice. Lyrical, rhythmic, and brutal, Josh Malerman wrote like a musician carving away at an album of great songs. The result was a true original that should have won the Bram Stoker award. Malerman is the singer and guitarist of the rock band The High Strung, and in this second novel, Malerman has used his experience to pen a novel about the power of music, both good and bad. Black Mad Wheel is incredibly accessible, with strong characters and a narrative that flows like the best classic rock and roll.
In the post-World War II era, the members of The Danes, a band with a one-hit-wonder, are looking for their next big thing. They find it when an officer from military intelligence makes them an offer that could put them all back on the path to wealth. The officer claims there is a “sound” emanating from the African desert that can disarm any weapon, but can also destroy a human in a horrific manner. The band accepts, and heads to the desert to find the source of the sound.
Meanwhile, in a parallel story, Phillip Tonka awakes from a long coma in a strange hospital, unable to move. Nearly every bone in his body is broken. He is a miracle to those who care for him. Ellen, his nurse, begins to unravel the mystery of what is happening to him, and why he is still alive and healing at a rate that is physically impossible. Both stories weave around each other like a great vocal riding atop a harmony, a guitar riff alongside a backbeat rhythm that can transform the simplest of songs into something magical. What the band finds in the desert is something most won’t see coming; Phillip’s tale is both mysterious and thrilling, and, as Malerman develops the bond between the man and his nurse, heartwarming as well.
Black Mad Wheel proves that Josh Malerman wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The story is just as enticing as Bird Box, with as much heart as horror. Do not miss this. Highly recommended. This ranks near the top of any thriller written about music.
Reviewed by Dave Simms