D.W. Gillespie: The Toy Thief
Reviewed by D.K. Hundt
D.W. Gillespie, a fan of all things dark and horrific, has been writing horror, science fiction, and fantasy for longer than he cares to admit. After winning the MacDougal Award for his short story ‘The Home’, he’s since been published many times in print and online. Gillespie is the author of nine novels and counting, including Still Dark, Daylight Dims, The Tree Man, Circle of Mist, and the novel featured in this review, The Toy Thief, published by FLAME TREE PRESS, a new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.
The Toy Thief is a first-person contemporary horror novel that is set in the 80s and is depicted through the eyes of protagonist, nine-year-old Jack, and is narrated by the woman she becomes. As I made way through this tale of horror, the pages brimming with nostalgia and well-placed fears that haunted my dreams as a child, all the feel-good moments of that time in my life began to flood into my memory. Like the scary horror flicks I watched on VHS that remind me of this book, specifically, Cat’s Eye (1985) and The Food of the Gods (1976), the television show The A-Team, Polaroid cameras, camping, shooting at empty soda cans with my dad, and the best part of all, my love-hate relationship with my older brothers growing up. Jacks only sibling is her older brother Andy, and their family bond is at times heartfelt (cue Kleenex in some parts, no joke) while other times it felt lacking. The Toy Thief, though horrific by design, highlights the theme of love, loss, and the family ties that bind us, but unfortunately, that aspect of this narrative comes undone, at least for me, due to the callousness of the narrator, which was off-putting at times. From the very beginning I found myself wanting to connect with Jack, but certain aspects of her personality, not the swearing, as I swore like a sailor being around my brother’s friends, kept pushing me further away due to her blatant arrogance and superiority that I honestly couldn’t stand. Adult Jack portrays her adolescent self as being part of ’the losers club,’ but her words and actions often told a different story, even at the expense of her brothers wellbeing. The reader is also given the ultimatum of ’take me as I am’ or the hell with yah, which made me want to flag down the nearest taxi and get the hell out of Dodge then and there, but I didn’t, because it’s certain aspects of Gillespie’s writing style and the mysterious Toy Thief that I wanted to see more of, and he doesn’t disappoint in the suspense and thriller department, either. Some of the journal entry narration I didn’t care for, only because it felt like unnecessary filler that only served to pull me out of the tension just as a scene was getting good. I’m a huge fan of a well placed cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, which allows the author to drop the reader into a new scene or within the skin of another character, making the anticipation of what’s going to happen next all the more enticing, instead of the commentary breaks in this novel that told me what happened instead of showing me.
The antagonist or Toy Thief is so ominously portrayed, that I can honestly say that my nine-year-old self would be burrowed deep under the covers in a fetal position until daybreak – and I love that! A couple of the scenes are so well described, that I got chills while reading the book, and that hasn’t happened in a long time. When I dive into a horror novel, I want the author to lure me into the darkness by way of well-placed prose, and like a rat in a trap, I eagerly took the bait.
If my review of The Toy Thief sparked your interest in this book, then, by all means, take a bite, and delve into the creative mind of the author – you may be surprised by what you find lurking within.
Jack didn’t know what to call the nameless, skeletal creature that slunk into her house in the dead of night, stealing the very things she loved the most. So she named him The Toy Thief…
There’s something in Jack’s past that she doesn’t want to face, an evil presence that forever changed the trajectory of her family. It all began when The Toy Thief appeared, a being drawn by goodness and innocence, eager to feed on everything Jack holds dear. What began as a mystery spirals out of control when her brother, Andy, is taken away in the night, and Jack must venture into the dark place where the toys go to get him back. But even if she finds him, will he ever be the same?
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
D. K. Hundt is an American writer with a BA degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. When she’s not writing contemporary fiction and horror/supernatural stories, she likes to spend her free time working as a volunteer in her community, being a minion for her cat Simon, warding off carnivorous spiders, and throwing herself into and around the dark alleyways of Stephen King novels in search of inspiration. D. K. resides in California with her husband, and she is currently working on a horror novel titled, Cheveyo–a story about a young boy who goes to live with his grandpa on a reservation, and soon discovers that the malevolent creatures that lurk in the Okanogan Forest aren’t the only deadly secret the locals are hiding.
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