D.W. Gillespie is the author of a number of short stories, but if I recall right The Toy Thief is his novel-length trad pub debut (he has a few indie titles out, too). It's a solid introduction to his work, and Flame Tree Press has signed him for a second release in 2019, which I'm most certainly game to read.
The Toy Thief is a coming-of-age story involving Jack, her brother Andy, and the strange titular rat-man creature that invades their home to take their most cherished toys. Told in a tight first-person perspective, Jack tells us the story of this significant past event, slowly revealing the details of their encounters with the Thief and the ways in which their history has colored and shaped the present for this family.
Jack is an unreliable and unlikable narrator, an abrasive woman who thinks quite highly of herself and isn't shy about taking others down a peg or two when her ego demands it. She believes she is better than those that surround her, but also aware that if she lived in another location, like Hollywood or New York, she'd only be average at best. She vacillates between shrill and personable. On the surface, she could just be another tough chick as imagined by a male writer, but there's enough hints in the story to convince me there's more to her story and how events have shaped and altered her personality. It's safe to say that the Thief has made Jack the woman she is today, and her encounters with him have permanently changed both her and her brother.
The Toy Thief itself is an interesting creature, and Gillespie injects it with a lot of promise and potential. I liked the history of this particular monster quite a lot, and its cravings and desires that compel it to steal from the children are pretty dang nifty.
On the horror front, though, The Toy Thief isn't particularly scary. Gillespie generates some solid moments of creepiness, but never any actual fright, and he eschews violence and gore for the most part. Perhaps it's more appropriate to view The Toy Thief as a dark family drama rather than a straight-up work of horror. In a brief supplementary interview with Gillespie, the author speaks of his admiration for the film work of Guillermo del Toro, whose influence can be felt here, particularly the del Toro of Pan's Labryinth and Crimson Peak, which rely heavily on atmosphere, family dynamics, and neat-o creature design far more than blood-curdling, spine-tingling terror.
Readers looking for a fast-paced, gore-filled romp might be disappointed, but those looking for something slower and quieter may find themselves engaged by Jack's autobiographical musings. The Toy Thief certainly has me curious to see what else Gillespie has up his sleeve in future books and I find myself looking forward to his sophomore effort, One by One per a recent tweet, to steal away some more of my time.
[Note: I received an advance reading copy of this title from the publisher, Flame Tree Press.]
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