"The Maker's Box" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by 9 Swords

the makers box david barclay poster large

Written by David Barclay
2022, 101 pages, Fiction
Released on 3rd March 2022

Review:

These days horror and high-quality novellas seemingly go hand in hand and I routinely review new releases which are perfect two-hour escapes from the humdrum of day-to-day life. David Barclay’s The Maker’s Box ticks this box perfectly and going into the story completely blind I was instantly grabbed by the plot and could easily have devoured it in one sitting if not for work (life getting in the way again!) the following morning. If you are after a quick and pacy read, with a great hook, this clever little story is well worth investigating. The afterward explains the difficulty Barclay had in getting his work into print (two publishers went bust along the way), which just makes the story even more endearing, as I felt his pain and am delighted to confirm it was worth the perseverance.

The best novellas are often built around a deceptively simple concept, and The Maker’s Box makes good use of that idea. When Emily turns sixteen, her father gives her the strangest of gifts, a beating heart inside a wooden box. A large part of the success of the story lies between the dynamics of Emily and her father, who is a recovering but struggling alcoholic whose long-term problems have blighted their relationship. Why would a father give his child a beating heart with vague instructions other than the fact that she has to make ensure, at any costs, it stays alive? The reasons for this are kept nicely shrouded as the story progresses, but before long you will be wishing Emily was given a box of chocolates or a nice perfume instead of this monstrosity.

To keep the heart ticking Emily must feed the organ drops of blood and these scenes are very cleverly handled with the teenager effectively self-harming to keep it functioning. There is almost a sexual release or intensity to these moments, with Emily often indulging the heart more than a few drops of her blood. Her father might be the alcoholic, but there is a real sense of addiction to these scenes also, with Emily covered in nicks and cuts from the multiple knife wounds. The pulsing organ also had me thinking of the Venus flytrap that feeds on human blood in The Little Shop of Horrors, but this is most definitely no comedy.

Whilst the intrigue builds for the direction the dodgy heart might take the plot, the characters are strong enough to keep everything beating along nicely with a convincing LGBT vibe amongst her friends. The Maker’s Box squeezes a lot into its 101 pages and although Emily is not initially presented as gay, she is sexually curious and feels some attraction to one of her best female friends, which the heart pulls the strings in triggering.<

The Maker’s Box has a nice level of suspense and is presented as a contemporary dark fairy tale which features magic, terror, madness and damaged central characters. Once the cat is out of the bag about the origins and intentions of the presence behind the heart, the pace quickens, but at the same time, my curiosity dipped slightly, as the suspense level drops. Coincidently, the eventual direction the story takes reminded me of an obscure Scottish figure, Dr Walford Bodie (also known as the Electric Wizard), an early 20th-century magician who had some fame in the UK and is buried in my hometown of MacDuff in the northeast of Scotland.

David Barclay has written a very entertaining novella with a striking central plotline, engaging characters and an action-packed second half after setting things up nicely in the opening part. Before long you will be wishing poor Emily puts away her straight razor and escapes the rhythmic “thump, thump, thump”, which is soon invading her dreams.

Grades:

Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Cover
Buy from Amazon UK.

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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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