As much as I love a good book, it seems that finding time to read these days is near impossible. Sadly, I went all of 2016 without finishing a single novel. With so much great content out there, I decided that 2017 would be different. To kick off my new resolution, I started with Greetings from Barker Marsh by Tyson Hanks.
In Greetings from Barker Marsh, a drifter riding the rails gets off of a train in the town of Barker Marsh, Illinois. With an injured ankle and the unfortunate luck of a torrential downpour, he seeks a dry place to rest at an abandoned factory. However, he isn’t alone as he soon finds himself in the company of a man named Harold ‘Hasty’ Davis. After getting a fire going, Hasty explains that Barker Marsh isn’t quite like other towns and it holds a lot of secrets and stories. Intrigued, and having nowhere else to go, the drifter asks to hear the stories, certainly not realizing what he was in store for.
The first story, “Antipode Theory,” is about teenage twin siblings, Wes and Wendy, who couldn’t be more different. Even though he’s always been labeled “the bad twin,” Wes can’t help but stick up for his sister when he overhears a crude rumor. That is just the beginning of the madness that unravels around Wes. “Antipode Theory” is a great opening that perfectly sets up the dark and secretive town we’ve ventured into.
Next we meet Nick Goodman in “Bruises.” Keeping a simple life after serving time in a state prison, Nick gets hired by a miserable, hateful man who runs an award-winning BBQ joint. While serving food at the annual Barker Marsh Picnic, Nick’s boss gets into a heated fight with a group of Gypsy entertainers. Unfortunately for Nick, things quickly go from bad to worse.
“Bruises” had some truly suspenseful moments with great buildups. The story shows Hanks’ ability to keep readers in the moment while feeding us ordinary details to give a full mental image. Another thing I noticed about Hanks’ writing during “Bruises” is that he isn’t afraid to just let the story play out, regardless of where it takes us. Without giving too much away, there was a moment that took my breath away and made me step away for a few. I had to process what I just read and the mental image stayed with me all night.
Between the stories, we’re taken back to the abandoned factory, where Hasty and the drifter are sitting around the fire. Both men each have their own demons and stories and Hasty offers to tell his in “Box 247.” This is my second favorite story in Greetings from Barker Marsh because of the ending I never saw coming. It made me think back to everything I had already read, as if given a piece to a puzzle.
That brings us to the last story, which also happens to be my favorite, “The Burning.” The story follows Eddie Willis, a man who returns to Barker Marsh after his estranged brother, Don, the local priest in town, suddenly passed away. Eddie had been away from the town for two decades after traumatic incidents that involved the church. When he returns to Don’s house, those events begin to literally haunt him.
While facing his past, learning about who his brother became over the last twenty years and burying his brother, he uncovers even more of Barker Marsh’s secrets. The story combines several different supernatural elements and actually made my heart race a few times. With the first half of “The Burning” making it impossible to put the book down, I was admittedly nervous it would let me down in the end. However, the ending was far more satisfying than expected and I loved knowing even more lore about the town. Barker Marsh truly felt like a character more than a setting.
Tyson Hanks went bold, combining several different horror elements, and wasn’t afraid to be graphic. Yet, he was restrained enough not to let the story become more than he could handle. That is definitely impressive in a debut novel.
If you’re looking for a good book that may cause you to lose a bit of sleep, I highly recommend adding Greetings from Barker Marsh to your reading list.