Last year I read an incredible novel by Josh Malerman called Bird Box. It was so unique and terrifying and has stuck with me ever since. While I was at the library I noticed another book by him called Black Mad Wheel and instantly started reading it. It came out in 2017 and is just over 300 pages. While to me it wasn’t as good as Bird Box, it was still very well written and spooky.
Set after World War 2, a rock band called The Danes has become famous. They spent the war playing for the troops and when the war ended they had a hit record. They live in Detroit and spend most of their time getting wasted and recording other bands at their studio, Wonderland.
One day they are approached by the US Army to travel to Africa and investigate a mysterious and dangerous sound. The military fear it might be a new nuclear weapon as it has made their guns useless and knocks people over sick to their stomachs when they hear it. The Danes listen in their studio and are overcome by sickness. But after the promise of $100K each if they complete this mission and find the source of the sound, the band agrees.
The book jumps back and forth between present and past. In the present, one of The Danes named Phillip has awoken in a hospital. Every single bone in his body is broken and the doctors have no idea what kind of weapon could’ve caused this. The past is the mission The Danes go on.
It’s a twisted, fascinating story with some incredible characters and terrifying imagery.
JUMPING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY
My favorite part of this story was when Phillip finally discovers the source of the noise. He’s wandering lost through an abandoned mine underneath the desert and it gave me super As Above So Below vibes. He has visions of soldiers from all across time and sees people and visions from his past. It’s just such a creepy premise – to be in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere and stumble upon a freshly dead body of a civil war soldier. Or to wake up from being sick from the sound and finding hoof prints in the sand. Ugh…nightmare imagery.
I got a little lost in the story near the end when it came time to reveal who the villain was and how he controlled the sound. That all seemed a little unbelievable to me. I think I would’ve preferred if it was just some sort of demon all along instead of an actual human being wielding this ungodly like sound.
Ellen was awesome. She was the nurse that took care of Phillip when he was in his coma. I loved that she was the only one in the hospital who realized something sinister was going on. She also never gave in to being bullied by the doctor and the military. I’m glad she survived.
END SPOILER TERRITORY
Malerman is just naturally talented at creating really terrifying visuals that stick in your brain for a long time. His stories always feel very movie like. He’s great at dialogue and at creating this quiet tension that builds inside of you without you realizing it.
I absolutely recommend Black Mad Wheel, but only if you’d already Bird Box. Because Bird Box is phenomenal.