Cover Image: Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol

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Member Reviews

As we gear up for the publication of Mallory, the sequel to Birdbox - the source of a fantastic Netflix adaptation starring Sandra Bullock -- Unbury Carol remains a favorite from Malerman. Malerman's strength is his ability to create uniquely tense concepts for characters to play around in, or, in the case of Carol Evers', a conceit to literally constrain her. 

This Weird Western/Sleeping Beauty hybrid moves along at a brisk place and the gunslingers, marshals, and slimy hucksters have more to content with than a typical Western town - demons and ghosts wander the main road between towns and the journey to rescue Carol from her grave provides compelling momentum. I'd  have loved to have seen this world fleshed out a bit more, the road a bit less one way. Still, Western horror is a unique category and Unbury Carol is a great place to continue on with Malerman as we wait for Mallory.
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Thank you so much for the opportunity to review this book and to be an early reader via NetGalley! However, I will not be writing a review for this title at this time, as my reading preferences have since changed somewhat. In the event that I decide to review the book in the future, I will make sure to purchase a copy for myself or borrow it from a library. Once again, thank you so much for providing me with early access to this title. I truly appreciate it. Please feel free to contact me with any follow-up questions or concerns.
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I just could not get into this book. I tried twice and got about 40 pages in and just lost interest, I dig Malerman and would definitely read more from him, While I can see this connecting with a lot of readers, it wasn't the one for me. Did not finish, but thank you for the opportunity.
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Just like Vegemite, Unbury Carol is dividing opinion. Some think it’s the best thing Malerman has written and some think it’s drivel. It’s time for the Grim Reader’s verdict. Saddle up, dear reader, as we travel back to the old west. Yee-haw!

Sadly, for me, Unbury Carol was a disappointing book. On the surface, it’s a kind of fractured fairy tale in which poor Carol suffers from a bizarre sleeping disorder ( a la Sleeping Beauty) that makes her appear dead. She is to be buried by her money-grabbing husband, Dwight (alive, of course), but thankfully help is on the way…..albeit slowly, in fact, real slowly. James Moxie is the dashing cowboy (an outlaw! which we are told several hundred times) on his way to rescue his once-loved, whilst the sinister cripple, Smoke, also travels the trail but has very different motivations.

I can totally understand the division of opinion with this book so let’s get the bad stuff out-of-the-way first. The bad has mostly to do with the pacing. The pacing of this novel is terrible, it’s turgid. And yet despite this, I was curious enough to continue reading. The novel’s premise intrigued me and though I didn’t care much at all for Carol (sorry!), Moxie, and eventually Smoke, both held my interest. However, I nearly gave up as things almost grind to a complete halt after the opening few chapters. Now, I get that the old west probably isn’t a fast-paced environment but there were chapters where I was literally falling to sleep (just like Carol!). Hell’s heaven I just wanted something to happen! I honestly feel this book could lose 100 pages and be much better for it, but, different strokes for different folks. The other issue I have is with the repetition. Gosh damn, there is a lot of this. “Hell’s heaven”, everybody says again and again and again and again…..but that’s not all. My tiny brain couldn’t possibly count the number of times somebody is referred to as an outlaw. Please just STOP!

But what about the good? Well, Moxie is a likeable rogue and I challenge anybody to dislike him. His sidekick, Rinaldo (not the famous footballer Ronaldo!) is great, too, though not used enough. Moxie’s past is interesting and I wanted to know so much more about him. However, Smoke is the show-stopper, he is a fantastic character who for me has a Randall Flagg feel about him. Despite being a cripple, he is a vile human being, every chapter with him in is gold. He is the reason I kept coming back for more.

As for the writing, well, the writing is good, sometimes even great, though I found the dialogue at times to be a little boring. I did get a good feel for the towns and I was almost coughing on the dust as our characters shambled along the trail. I really wanted to read more about Howltown-the afterlife Carol goes when she sleeps-and the sinister entity, Rot, is another great character yet a woefully underused one. The second half of the book did see improvement in the pacing but not the repetition.

Despite the pedestrian nature of the book and the repetition, I didn’t mind Unbury Carol but I just can’t ignore the fact that at times I was bored to tears. On the plus side, I haven’t read too many books with such a distinct western flavour so it was a nice change to read something like this and as I mentioned before there are some great characters. Don’t go into this expecting a horror novel, you will leave disappointed, but if you want a slow, burning tale from the old west that features hints of the supernatural this is the book for you.

2.5/5 well-worn saddles from the Grim Reader.
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With a unique and interesting premise and a story that crosses genres, Unbury Carol was a book I couldn’t put down. Mixing Western and thriller with a touch of horror, this is certainly a book that takes its sweet time to build up, but even the less-than-tense moments were such a joy to read. 

Carol Evers has an odd and interesting condition — she has episodes where, for all intents and purposes, she is dead. Still breathing, but not noticeably. Not many people know of her condition, aside from a dead friend, her ex-lover, and her current husband, Dwight. Carol is also rich. Something that Dwight decides to take advantage of during her latest episode. Dwight decides to pass her off as truly dead, and with no one really knowing that she isn’t, it should be fairly easy to bury ‘ol Carol and take her money. Problem is, her ex-lover gets word of her “death” and it’s a race against time to bury carol before Moxie gets to town. 

Bouncing between present day and flashbacks of Carol’s and Moxie’s life prior to the present, the narrative is truly a race against time and uh, burial, as they both struggle against the clock — Moxie, as he tries to make his way to Carol and deliver the truth; Carol, as she tries again and again and again to just wake up. There’s also a bit of supernatural involved with Carol’s sleeping sickness, for lack of a better term, and I really enjoyed that part of the story. Although I enjoyed most everything about it, so that was just a little added bonus. 

Bottom line — quirky, fun, incredibly unique, Unbury Carol was such a fun tale that I didn’t want to end. This is my first book by Malerman and I’m incredibly excited to have discovered a new author that will probably become a favorite of mine. Highly recommended for anyone who likes books that cross genres, and especially for those that like dark humor and quirky tales. 

*Review based on purchased audiobook, although I did receive an eARC courtesy of NetGalley.
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Unfortunately I really did not like this book. The book was much more of a western with a surrealism aspect than a horror novel for me. I found Carol's illness to be interesting but found the other characters in the story unlikable and the plot to be boring.
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Josh Malerman became famous for his 2014 debut novel Bird Box, and while ostensibly speaking his subsequent publications haven't received the same level of critical praise (numerous reviews and even the publisher's promotional blurbs for Bird Box routinely compared Malerman to Stephen King), he has no less proven himself to be a lasting voice in horror literature.

His latest novel, Unbury Carol (out now from Del Rey), further solidifies this legacy, and will no doubt renew comparisons to the "Master of Horror," as this effort is immediately reminiscent of King's Dark Tower series. Both blend elements of the Western, supernatural fantasy, and a simple (but not simplistic) good vs. evil narrative. And yet, Malerman also sets himself apart from King here by delivering prose that is both lean and evocative, delving into his characters' internal mental clockwork without inspecting every inch of the mechanisms, allowing the reader to better feel the immediacy of the breakneck story.

As the title alone indicates, the primary plot concerns a woman named Carol Evers, who is faced with one of those primal, universal fears: being buried alive. This horror has loomed over Carol her entire life, as she suffers from a rare condition that sends her into days-long comas that mimic death so thoroughly, only the most meticulous of observers can detect the life still coursing through her body. Inside these comas—a realm she calls Howltown due to the ever-present, low rumbling wind—Carol remains conscious and able to hear everything going on around her, though she cannot see and experiences a sensation of falling face-first into a never-ending abyss. These episodes are ultimately more of a nuisance for Carol—mysterious and uncomfortable, yes, but harmless—so long as there is someone there to ensure she isn't mistaken for dead and sent to the funeral home.

Unfortunately, her husband Dwight—a rather slimy, cowardly, and covetous man who no longer wishes to live under his wealthy and well-loved wife's shadow—enacts a plot to do just that. When she falls into Howltown toward the beginning of the novel, he tells the world Carol has passed, and begins planning her services with local mortician Robert Manders. Aiding him in this nefarious deed is the witchy trail watcher Lafayette, a woman both hated and feared by locals, and a shapeshifting phantom called Rot, who is in fact the very embodiment of decay and who desires Carol's genuine passing for his own clandestine reasons. Seemingly, her only hope of salvation rests in former lover James Moxie, who abandoned her twenty years earlier for an outlaw's life and became a legend for his "Trick in Abberstown," where it is said he used some kind of black magic to shoot a man in a duel without ever drawing his gun. Alerted to her plight by Carol's dutiful friend and attendant Farrah, Moxie rides out in the hopes of saving her life and atoning for his leaving her those two decades prior.

Magic—or more appropriately, illusion—acts as a kind of spine throughout the novel. Nothing is as it seems in this world. Malerman himself plays the part of a magician here, as he takes the well-known construct of a fairy tale and turns it into something original and surprising (Sleeping Beauty immediately comes to mind). At face value, we have a damsel in distress (Carol), a dastardly and evil villain (typically another female character, but here represented by Dwight, though he is in cahoots with the "evil queen" figure Lafayette), and a heroic "knight in shining armor" who races to save the day (Moxie). Malerman's greatest trick here is providing Carol with a tremendous amount of agency despite rendering her incapacitated throughout the narrative. Yes, there is a man on the trail, riding to rescue her, but she places very few of her hopes and desires on his making it in time, focusing instead on pulling herself out of Howltown, something she's never really been able to do before, but a task she throws herself into given the life and death circumstances. 

Moxie too breaks away from his typical fairy tale mold, as he is not an embodiment of goodness. He succumbed to his fears as a young man and abandoned Carol precisely because he did not want the responsibility of looking after a woman with a serious condition, choosing instead a nomadic life of carousing and lawlessness, of guns, robberies, and revelry. In his later years, he becomes instead the very embodiment of guilt, which further hinders rather than propels his ability to put right his past wrongs.

Similarly, Dwight, while never a sympathetic character, is not a stock villain either, twirling his mustache and laughing menacingly. He is mewling and insufferable at his worst, and at his best he is pitiful, though not in a way that elicits a desire in the reader to take pity on him, since he does enough self-pitying to last a lifetime. But it is this selfishness that drives his actions, his sense of entitlement that makes him so dangerous. In other words, as a mere man, it is hard to take him seriously, but as a villain, he is a considerable threat.

The aforementioned Rot is a treacherous trickster as well, donning a myriad of faces, championing Dwight, and preying on Moxie's guilt to capture Carol, his white whale. His ghastly, ever-changing visage leaves an indelible mark on the reader's mind, and yet, perhaps the most memorable baddie of the bunch is the most straightforward, the most transparent—the as yet unmentioned Smoke, an assassin partial to improvisational rhyming and singing, who uses fire rather than guns to dispatch his targets. It is his method of torching that stands out as so original and sickeningly ingenious: he loads up his tin prosthetic legs with oil, and uses strings looped up through his pants pockets to release the oil through his heels, allowing him to step over and across objects and, more horrifyingly, people, while slathering them with flammable coats. Though he is unhinged and at times unpredictable, with Smoke, what you see is what you get, and while his appearances on the page are disturbing, one cannot help but read on. He is to Unbury Carol what Rutger Haur's portrayal of Roy Batty is to Blade Runner. 

But while Smoke is certainly the show-stealer, the entire novel is an engaging, enthralling, and altogether entertaining experience from front to back. It is a fast read, in part due to Malerman's literary economy, but more so than this, it is simply hard to put down. Anyone experiencing doubts as to Malerman's staying power in the world of horror will have those doubts quelled after reading Unbury Carol.
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In the style of a mind bending spaghetti western, Josh Malerman's Unbury Carol is interesting. I found the premise and thought process interesting, however I just didn't connect with the main character enough to care about what happened to her.
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I always love a Josh Malerman book! Unbury Carol builds tension slowly, and if you're willing to stick with it, has some pretty great surprises at the end.
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What else can I say about Josh Malerman that hasn't already been said (by me) a thousand times over? Unbury Carol is his best to date. I never wanted to leave this world. If there was ever any doubt that Josh is heir to the horror genre, that doubt is vanquished.
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Like a lot of people, the first time I read Malerman’s work was when I stumbled across his debut novel Bird Box. Bird Box is a unique story that follows a woman named Malorie as she attempts to find a safe place to take her two children, five years after the arrival of the mysterious creatures who can drive people to madness with just one glimpse. Reading Bird Box, I was drawn in immediately by his unique take on the post-apocalyptic story and the world building that went into the story. After I finished that, I was sold on Malerman’s talent and knew I was going to be a longtime fan. I’ve read everything Malerman has released since Bird Box, and while each book has its own style, the one constant is Malerman’s storytelling ability and imagination. When I first about his latest release, Unbury Carol, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and see what sort of adventure Malerman conjured up this time around.

Carol Evers has a secret that she has only shared with three people – her best friend John Bowie, her husband Dwight and her ex, the famed outlaw James Moxie. Carol has died many times throughout her life, although her deaths are a bit different from the one everyone else experiences. She doesn’t actually die, but instead falls into a long-lasting coma that makes it appear as if she is dead to those who are unaware of her condition. It’s easy to think she has actually died – her heartbeat is faint, her pulse becomes barely detectable and she shows no sign of breathing – which poses a very grave threat to Carol’s life. Carol guards her secret because she fears it will frighten people and cause them to leave her. However, this proves to be a deadly mistake because her husband, who many thought only married her for her money, plans to use her condition to steal her fortune and bury her alive so that he can live a life of luxury. Although Carol and Moxie have not seen or spoken to one another in 20 years, the news of her death causes him to saddle up again and take to the Trail for the first time in a decade. After the untimely death of Carol’s friend John, Moxie is the only one who knows Carol’s not dead and the only one who will be able to save her. The question is, will he reach her in time? Because there are other people who have an interest in seeing Carol buried alive and they will do whatever it takes to keep Moxie from ruining their plans.

Unbury Carol into a single genre, I would label it a Weird Western, which is a genre I haven’t been too big on in recent years. I don’t have anything against Westerns, but for some reason I could never get hooked on one, at least in terms of novels. That wasn’t the case with Unbury Carol, which immediately hooked me with rich world-building, memorable characters and an engaging plot.

I loved the way Malerman crafted Carol’s affliction, which appears to draw inspiration from the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. However, Malerman is able to make it his own by not only making Carol’s comas more frightening, but by also giving reader’s a glimpse of it through her eyes. The doctors that Carol saw early in life were never able to give her condition a scientific name as it seems to be an affliction unique to Carol. While it was frightening at first, Carol crafts an identity around her condition in an attempt to normalize it and take some of the fear from it. She started calling it “Howltown”, which is more of a name for the state she occupies in one of her comas and less the condition itself. Despite the fact that it’s a desolate place that only she can visit, she thinks of it as a town. There is no light in Howltown and it got its name from the howling wind that never stops and is the only noticeable stimulus that cuts through the absolute darkness. She always knows when the comas are coming as it is preceded by a falling sensation and distorted vision. She sometimes sees ripples and it’s like her world is slowly bleeding into Howltown.

This is one of the most horrifying aspects of Unbury Carol. Don’t get me wrong, Unbury Carol has many moments that are laced with evil and brutality, but imagine the horror that Carol is faced with every time she has an attack. Her own body acts like a prison and she is unable to move or communicate with anyone in the real world while she is in Howltown. Sometimes she can make out bits and pieces of what is happening around her, but she’s powerless to do anything about it. Imagine facing the betrayal of someone who was supposed to love you and that you trusted as they plot your death and taunt you at every step of the way. It’s absolutely bone-chilling.

Another strength of Unbury Carol is the characters. Malerman brings the towns that litter the Trail to life by crafting interesting characters. Listing all of them would be near impossible, but I decided to highlight a few. Carol’s friend John Bowie, who has already passed away by the opening of the novel, leaves a lasting impression even in death. He was a good man who often made himself the life of the party due to his penchant for magic tricks. However his importance comes into play due to his relationship with Carol. He was her closest friend, and the intimate nature of their relationship is shown through the fact that he was the only person outside of her family and significant others who ever learned of her secret. Rather than get freaked out like many others would have, Bowie listens to her with care and respect, wanting to understand his friends affliction. He is the only one outside of her mother Hattie to try to understand Carol’s illness and help her develop ways to cope with it. Everyone else wanted to exploit her or simply ran from the challenges they thought it posed.

I also loved following Moxie’s part of the story. James Moxie’s notoriety comes from the event largely known as “The Trick in Abberstown”, where Moxie won a duel against a man named Daniel Prouds without ever drawing his gun. While the event happened many years ago, it is still talked about by anyone who comes into contact with Moxie. While Moxie used that reputation to carve out a life on the Trail, he’s no longer the same man he once was. When Moxie drops everything to race to Harrows to try to save Carol, he had been off the Trail for nine years. As I loved the decision to have these events take place in the twilight of his career because it makes him a more interesting character. Moxie is no longer full of the bravado you would expect from his younger days, but instead battles the demons of his past and feelings of self-doubt.

There are supernatural elements throughout Unbury Carol, but the most frightening moments of the novel come from the interactions between the human characters and the evil they are capable of. The character responsible for causing the most mayhem is easily the feared outlaw Smoke. Smoke is one of the most terrifying antagonists I have come across in recent memory. None of it has to do with supernatural powers, but rather his propensity for evil and the atrocities he is able to carry out without any remorse. Every scene he is in is unpredictable because he is just as likely to let people go as he is to kill them. He has a unique and brutal calling card and it’s the reason he is the most feared person on the Trail. He is tasked with hunting Moxie and their relationship is interesting because Moxie’s legend grew in the wake of Smoke’s own personal tragedy. Smoke is fascinated by Moxie’s legend, but loathes him and dreams about what will happen if he finally catches up to him on the Trail. Then there is Rot, another terrifying villain that plays a large part in the novel. I won’t go into too much detail about his story, but his scenes are among the creepiest in the novel.

Malerman’s world building is excellent and while I already talked a bit about Howltown, the other big set piece of Unbury Carol is the Trail. The Trail is a passage that connects all of the neighboring towns and has a rich history and legends of its own. It is a hard and unforgiving place that many of the residents avoid traveling if they can help it. Men who feel lost or aimless often can’t resist the pull of the Trail. Sure, there is darkness and evil lurking along the Trail, but what Malerman has done is craft a beautiful setting full of mystery and intrigue and it is that mystique that lures people like Moxie and Smoke to it. It’s a chance for them to make names for themselves and leave a lasting legacy.

Structurally, Malerman jumps around between various points of view and isn’t afraid to use fluid timelines. While the story does have a linear narrative, he occasionally uses flashbacks at various points of the story. This approach may not work for every reader, but I enjoyed how he worked in minor plot threads throughout the story before circling back and wrapping them up later. The best example of this would be the various mentions of “The Trick in Abberstown”. I love how the story is told in anecdotes sprinkled throughout the novel and from various perspectives, but that the narrative still maintains a cohesive structure.

While there are moments of dread and horror throughout Unbury Carol, readers looking for a straight-up horror novel may come away a bit disappointed. In my opinion, the core of Malerman’s story revolves around love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect the ones they love. Malerman is one of those authors whose work I’m always interested in because I know that no matter what the basis of the story is, I know it will be something special. Malerman is like some kind of mad horror alchemist, unafraid of blending genres and using his unique creativity to push horror into some interesting places. There is something magical about Unbury Carol that kept me glued to the pages and that magic is one of the reasons this is on my shortlist for my favorite novel of the year
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Absolutely brilliant! Josh Malerman strikes again! I was a huge fan of his first novel Bird Box and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as well. He has such a unique style that lures you in, grips you by the collar, and refuses to let go. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next. Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read this before its release.
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Josh Malerman has a unique gift for writing strong female protagonists set against a very dark, unrelenting world.  I absolutely loved Bird Box, and while Unbury Carol is very different, it still holds many dark secrets that the main female character must uncover.  Carol, with her incredibly difficult curse of seemingly dying, only to actually be alive, works against her as her cold, greedy husband decides to one day use this against her in order to cash in on her family's wealth.  Working against time to save herself as she lays in a slumber, unable to talk for herself, Carol leads the reader through a weaving story of betrayal and ultimately redemption for someone from her past.
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I loved this book! I devoured this book even though I was a little worried about it being a sorta western.
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While this book wasn't really for me, the concept is excellent, and I'm happy to recommend it to more regular horror readers with a sense of whimsy.
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Josh Malerman's UNBURY CAROL is stunning. Part Western, part fairy tale, it is a fresh take on the horror and thriller genres. It is also remarkably timely, as it demonstrates the horror that occurs when a woman's body becomes a battleground for men's wills. Highly recommended.
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I really loved Malerman's Bird Box but there was something about this I just didn't care for. The idea of the story is intriguing but I didn't feel like it was developed enough. DNF
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UNBURY CAROL is a bizarre story of good vs. evil with a strange mix of....magical realism....old time west....tricks and tricksters....and even a bit of paranormal when the monster ROT enters the dreaded world Carol calls Howltown.

CAROL's frightening (secret) health condition makes her appear dead as a doornail when she literally falls into a coma, and ALMOST no one knows about it, so....after confidant and best buddy John Bowie dies; Who should she tell? Who can she really trust? Her husband?

Get ready for the weirdest of weird as you meet up with a whole slew of oddball characters and progress along the ole trail, including the dangerous and creepy bad guy Smoke who loves a good fire, AND the trail's most legendary trickster of an outlaw, John Moxie.  UNBURY CAROL - Just a plain old fun read albeit with an ending that could have packed a more powerful punch.
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I'm not a fan of horror so when I first picked this up I was unsure how I would like it. The first few pages really drew me in and I felt that the horror element was less scare and more spine tingling. I enjoyed it and have suggested it to customers as a nice mixture of genres.
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This was great! I enjoyed the interesting story line as well as the variety of complex and sometimes amusing characters. It takes place in the old west, making it something of a western, but more in the realm of "The Sister Brothers", by Patrick deWitt, than a Louie L'Amore title. It is also a bit of a sci-fi/ fantasy featuring ghosts and supernatural goings on. In all actually though, I would probably categorize this book as a suspense novel. I couldn't figure out what was going to happen next and was completely sucked into reading until the very end. There was also a hint of lightness and comedy that kept me from taking the book too seriously. I think that nicely countered some of the more violent scenes.
I think this book would be enjoyed by fans of Stephen King. I could definitely see some likeness to his ability to tell a story that keeps you guessing and generally incapable of figuring out its direction.
Highly imaginative, "Unbury Carol" is another unique read from Josh Malerman.
My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this title.
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