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Book Review: ‘The Dead Run’ by Adam Mansbach

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Dead Run by Adam MansbachSixteen-year-old Sherry Richards and her mother once lived at the compound of religious cult in Southern Texas. They got out, aided by a compassionate psychologist named Ruth Cantwell. When Sherry doesn’t come home from the town pool one day, her mother calls the police. Sheriff Bob Nichols responds, not convinced anything has happened to Sherry. He meets Cantwell, who is convinced the cult is responsible, and the two set off to investigate.

Jess Galvan is trying to cross the desert from Mexico to get to the U.S. Given no choice by men who captured and imprisoned him, he has a most unusual package strapped to his chest: the beating human heart of a virgin. Accompanied by four other prisoners, Galvan is assailed not only by the desert but also dead girls who rise out of the ground and anyone who threatens the heart.

The name of the man who put Jess in this situation is El Cucuy. In the folklore of Hispanic cultures, “El Cucuy” is a bogeyman invoked to entice children to behave. (“If you’re not good, El Cucuy will get you and eat you.”) In The Dead Run, El Cucuy is a living man who is over 500 years old, and he is trying to bring about a new, evil world order that he will rule.

The stories of Galvan, Richards, Nichols, and Cantwell begin separately but grow towards each other in increasing spirals of terror until a final showdown on the U.S.-Mexican border with nothing less than the fate of the world at stake.

Adam Mansbach’s novels include Rage is Back, The End of the Jews (winner of the California Book Award), and Angry White Boy (a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005),  but he is best known for his parody children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep. He deftly weaves multiple myths together and provides a supernatural page-turner. His good guys are flawed but solid, decent human beings; his bad guys are corrupt and despicable. And his resolution to The Dead Run is crying out for a sequel, because it reads as the opening chapter in a longer tale.

It may be that I am not familiar with the myths Mansbach calls upon, but I did not guess where he was going to end up with this narrative. Although violent, The Dead Run is first-rate entertainment based on a fascinating cultural mashup.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.