Review Index


By ROBERT DAMON SCHNECK (TarcherPerigree; 2016)

In which author Robert Damon Schneck proves once again that his ability to dredge up odd and fascinating historical tidbits is unsurpassed. THE BYE BYE MAN follows Schneck’s MRS. WAKEMAN AND THE ANTICHRIST, which related a number of too-strange-for-fiction accounts; several more are included here (in truth THE BYE BYE MAN came first, having been initially published in 2005 under the title THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE, with this new edition timed to coincide with the release of the upcoming movie adaptation THE BYE BYE MAN).

     Among the true-life tales recounted here are “The Devil’s Militia,” which details the seemingly ghostly marauders that terrorized colonial New England back in 1692--about which, the author admits, no rational explanation exists. Far more straightforward is “Bribing the Dead,” which relates the exploits of one Ransford Rogers, a fake sorcerer who in New Jersey of 1788 (the time in which George Washington formally took office as the nation’s first president) convinced several deluded folk to hand money over to ghosts who would in turn reveal the whereabouts of buried treasure. That of course never actually happened, although Mr. Rogers netted a fair amount of money from this and other, similar schemes.

     Then there’s the title story, which differs from the other entries in that it consists of a first person recollection by a close friend of the author. This account, which has the unpretentious simplicity of a good campfire story, is summed up by its irresistible opening sentence: “At the end of the summer of 1990, three friends living in a small town in Wisconsin carried out an experiment with a Ouija board that brought them into contact with a monster.” Less interesting to me were the author’s lengthy ruminations that follow the story, in which he attempts to figure out the hows and whys of an account that, like the campfire tales it recalls, works best with its enigmas intact.

     Rounding things out are “The Lost Boys,” about the still-unsolved 1978 disappearance of five young men in Newark, New Jersey; “The President’s Vampire,” about a (supposed) late 19th vampire named James Brown who may have inspired DRACULA; “The God Machine,” about an attempt to construct a New Messiah through 19th Century mechanics; “One Little Indian,” about the Pedro Mountain Mummy, a.k.a. Pedro, which was discovered in Wyoming in 1932 and underwent a most eventful odyssey before inexplicably vanishing in the early 1950s; and “A Horror in the Heights,” about an uncanny phantom reportedly seen by many spectators in and around a Baltimore, Maryland housing project in July of 1951.

     Is THE BYE BYE MAN as strong overall as the Edgar Award nominated MRS. WAKEMAN AND THE ANTICHRIST? I don’t think so, but it is a mighty diverting book that will provide plenty of food for thought, and not a few authentic chills.