Written by Christopher Alan Broadstone, 2003
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the literary side of the genre, but irregardless if I can’t cite every dark fantasy culled up by Clive Barker (and I’ve no doubt the man has come up with plenty of cardic arrest inducing visions), I can assure you that if there were an all-star lineup of nightmare creatures, the Puzzleman, the titular character of Broadstone’s debut novel, would be batting cleanup.
Broadstone’s creation is, quite literally, an amalgamation of all that is evil. Composed of mismatched body parts and materializing in and out of the real world, the Puzzleman is a horror so primal that his foot prints can be tracked throughout history, but never to any singular point of origin. He resides in a hellish world that could appropriately be described as the bowels of the earth, where he reigns over an army of once-human grumemonsters who relish in their revolting surroundings, waiting for new flesh to be brought in.
And Broadstone’s novel concerns a group of characters who are intended to be that new flesh.
Amanda, a mother still mourning the abrupt loss of her son, Alan is, by a progressively unraveled series of connecting events, brought to the Puzzleman. This starts a harrowing adventure into discovering who is this misshapen man with a head like a partially deflated basketball and both male and female appendages. I’ll be sparse on the details, for I appreciated the refrained and oblique manner with which Broadstone himself reveals plot points and character truths, but suffice to say she and several people from her past are all serving as pawns in Puzzleman’s bid for eternal life.
The writing is brisk, especially for a first novel, and Broadstone’s descriptions are always refreshing and never repetitive. Though I will forewarn you, the gore may come in spurts in the initial stages of the narrative, but when it flows, it pours. If you’ve got a soft stomach, there will be times where you want to do whatever the literary equivalent is of covering your eyes and asking a friend to tell you when the scary parts are over.
In fairness, I felt an isolated stint in the middle, involving a surprisingly in-depth relation of one character’s discoveries from a Necronomicon-like legendary book called the Histoire, was a little longer than it needed to be. But other than that, the pacing is right on track and allows for strong buildup to a climactic final act (taking place directly in Puzzleman’s pipeworld of horrors) that is nothing short of the horror equivalent of a game winning grand slam.
Broadstone is a tremendous force in horror. His short films showed huge potential as a filmmaker, and now with Puzzleman he has proven himself as a nightmare inducing writer. The character of the Puzzleman – and his nightmare pipeworld – is brilliant and reason enough alone for you to pick up a copy.
Christopher Alan Broadstone, I am your fan.