Publication Date: 10th January 2017
REVIEWED BY CHAD
A copy of The Monster Underneath was sent to Confessions of a Reviewer by the author, Matthew Franks, in exchange for an honest review. This is said review.
This is a review I struggled with more than others, mostly because I have to resolve how to balance out and account for the differing feelings I have about this book. I feel pulled in both directions and as a whole, the book does have a lot going for it. On the opposite side, however, there are also aspects that don’t work as well for me. Looking at the global level of things, my overall reaction would be that the book is entertaining and worth checking out. Including honesty with that statement, I also have to state that I think the book also could have been much better.
First, the positives.
The concept for the book is pretty cool. The idea of entering in to another person’s dreams is nothing new, by any means. But I still found that Franks managed to infuse this basic idea with a feeling of originality and seemed to come from a new perspective. I was intrigued by the notion of a psychic using his abilities as a way of reforming convicted felons, of entering into their dreams as a way of getting them to see the error in their ways.
As often seems to be the case in stories like this, someone comes to the conclusion that this ability could be used for other purposes. Soon enough, the protagonist is drawn into an investigation that requires him to enter into the dreams of a suspected serial killer. Once there, he is to attempt to build a legal case against him.
I think this presents a lot of opportunity for some trippy, atmospheric storytelling. Setting the book largely inside the dream landscapes of someone like an alleged serial killer has great potential. This is the kind of story where you can really play with the senses of the reader, take them in a bunch of different directions and see what they come up with.
And the writing itself is good. I found the characters to be well constructed and there were no issues I had with the pacing. I found the mystery to be intriguing and suspenseful and I felt invested in finding the answers behind the puzzles in the book, who was indeed responsible for the killings?
All this begs the question, what exactly is my problem, then?
From the start, I didn’t really feel like I understood the universe of the book. Ultimately, I was able to cram down the disbelief factor but it was a bit jarring to see a world where the supernatural has evidently become not only accepted, but put to use as a part of our criminal justice system. And I fully acknowledge that if I’m going to accept the premise of this psychically driven character in the first place, the complaint does seem a bit on the petty side. Still, it would have been nice to have seen a bit of a wider stroke of the world this book is set in. Is it really the case that psychic abilities have become a part of the mainstream? Or is this on the level of say, a small-town police department hiring a psychic to help with a case. Is this just one ambitious investigator bringing in a psychic to track down this killer because he’s run out of options? I would have liked to have had a better idea of which situation we are dealing with.
Moving on from that point, as the book got into the heart of the actual investigation, I felt at times that things were moving along a little too smoothly, it just seemed too easy. The idea of being a participant in this suspects dreams, as a way of investigating his past, is very clever but the way it is executed, the dreams just seem a little too convenient to me. It was like he just happened to be dreaming in a sequence that was too organized and too easy to follow along and track. I think the story could have benefited from incorporating some more fantastical elements into the dream world, in order to emphasize the unreality of everything. As it stands, it almost comes off like the protagonist is plugging a quarter into the meter and sitting back to see what clues are going to be given him. There needs to be a little more distinction between the dream and the real world, in my opinion. Otherwise, a lot of the time, the dreams just come off like interactive flashbacks.
The ending of the book didn’t really hold up for me as much as I would have liked. The mystery that runs all through the book is around the alleged killer and whether or not he’s guilty. And if so, what exactly he did to all the women who have been missing all this time. And as intriguing as this was, when the time came, I thought the book had a feeling of anti-climax to it. It was like that aspect of the book just ran out of steam and passed out. As someone who had invested in the plot, I felt somewhat dismissed by the narrative and before I could even process this, the story took a sharp left turn and delved into a chunk of backstory for a completely different character. For much of the last act of the book, I was left kind of puzzled as to how everything I had just read had built up to this point. Being completely honest, to me it felt like material that had been added on to the end of the story just to draw it out a little longer. The events at the very end of the book are sad on a theoretical level but because it came so much out of nowhere, I didn’t feel emotionally invested. Ultimately, the odd choice of direction at the end of the book was what dropped my rating from four to three stars.
So, on the whole, I guess I’d give this a thumbs up and a thumbs down. There were aspects I loved and others, not so much. As with anything though, you have to be the one who makes the ultimate determination. This is still a book I recommend, despite the more negative feelings I have about the narrative decisions. Matthew Franks has constructed a rich and interesting universe within the confines of this book.
I just wish I could have gotten to see more of it.
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Reality can be the difference between a dream and a nightmare…
Max Crawford isn’t a typical prison therapist. He uses his unusual psychic ability to walk with convicts through their dreams, reliving their unspeakable crimes alongside them to show them the error of their ways.
Max always has to be on his toes to keep himself grounded, but the FBI agent waiting for him in his private office immediately puts him on edge. The bureau wants Max to go way outside his comfort zone to enter the dreams of suspected serial killer William Knox.
To get a confession and secure the future of his prison program, Max must gain Knox’s trust by any means necessary—and survive the minefield of secrets waiting inside a murderer’s mind. Secrets that could turn Max’s reality into a living nightmare.
“THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH is an intense and clever debut in which reality is more terrifying than the nightmares and twisted dreamscapes of a madman. Author Matthew Franks is a name to remember, his stories you won’t soon forget.” –Rena Mason, Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author of THE EVOLUTIONIST and EAST END GIRLS
“THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH is a real nail-biter – one of those ever-spiraling stories that you just can’t put down until you reach the surprising end!” –John Everson, Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author of COVENANT and THE FAMILY TREE
“An assured, gripping, totally engaging debut, Matthew Franks will have you burning through the pages of this taut supernatural thriller at breakneck speed. If Christopher Nolan and Stephen King ever teamed up to write a novel, this would be it. Highly recommended!” –Ronald Malfi, author of LITTLE GIRLS
“Matthew Franks’ debut novel takes you through the darkest, twisted alleys of a killer’s mind and then drags you several steps further, beyond the status of observer and into the disturbing realm of accomplice. A harrowing tale of murder and delusion and moral ambiguity.” –Hank Schwaeble, Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author of DAMNABLE, DIABOLICAL, and the dark thriller collection AMERICAN NOCTURNE
“THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH is quite thought provoking and at times terrifying. To say it was a page turner is an understatement. This is an outstanding debut novel.” –Castle Macabre Book Reviews
Matthew Franks lives in Arlington, Texas with his beautiful wife and children.
He studied psychology and creative writing at Louisiana State University then obtained a Master’s Degree in counseling from Texas State University.
When he’s not working on his next story, he’s counseling adolescents or trying to keep up with his three highly energetic daughters.
And for more about Matthew, visit his site, or find him on social media: