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THE MAILMAN
By BENTLEY LITTLE (Signet; 1991)

Make no mistake: THE MAILMAN is a bit of a misfire, but itís also quite entertaining. It was the second novel by the talented Bentley Little, and evinces a lot of rookie mistakes, yet amply demonstrates Littleís genius for keeping the pages a-turning--itís a mess, in other words, but while reading it you probably wonít much care.

     The setting is a small Arizona town whose local mailman, beloved by most of the populace, has inexplicably committed suicide. His replacement is a creepy redhead who seems extremely committed to his job of delivering the mail. At first the town loves this new mailman, especially since he initially only delivers good letters, with the not-so-good deliveries--namely junk mail and bills--discreetly withheld.

     But the bad stuff inevitably makes itself apparent, if not in the mail than the fact that peoplesí water and electricity are being turned off due to nonpayment of bills (obviously this novel was drafted before the rise of the internet). The town is hit with further unexpected suicides and letters that arenít so nice, such as a series of missives from a manís long-dead Nam vet brother promising to come home soon, and a womanís deceased husband who sends her his severed appendages!

     Clearly the mailman possesses wide-ranging supernatural abilities, although the author leaves them vague. So too the mailmanís intentions, which given the breadth of his powers and apparent ambition seem wasted on this sleepy Arizona town (if heís as obsessed with doing evil as he seems to be, why doesnít he take on New York or LA?).

     The fable of Rumpelstiltskin appears to have been an influence on this novel (a pivotal sequence involves the hero surreptitiously catching the Mailman doing a freaky dance), as does Joan Sampsonís small-town horror classic THE AUCTIONEER and also THE TERMINATOR (as the mailman canít seem to be killed). This makes for an overstuffed and oft-disjointed narrative that incorporates real-life horrors like workplace shootings, child abuse and of course bad postal service. Yes, itís a gripping read, but Iíd advise perusing nearly any one of Bentley Littleís twenty-plus other novels in its place.

     

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