Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman is an original story of the dangers that accompany being buried alive. There was a time in the 1700s and 1800s that this was a real fear. Edgar Allen Poe wrote of it and it was such a fear that a minor industry developed that created caskets with ropes which connected with bells above ground so that the inadvertently interred could signal for help. This story expands on that fear and adds a few others to create an entertaining tale of greed, jealousy, perverted criminal activity, and the supernatural. I didn’t read the book but listened to an audiobook from Scribd. The link below is to the book on Amazon. It is USD 12.99 in the Kindle edition, USD 19.60 on Audible.com and is included in my Scribd subscription (USD 8.99 per month).
People in the past had justification for their fears of vivisepulture (being buried alive). In several of the cases, individuals went into a coma as a result of injury or illness, were declared dead, and buried. This is the closest example of what happened to Carol Evers plus two additional factors. If Carol encountered stress, she died or at least appeared to do so. From one incident in this novel, a mirror was placed under her nose and a breath appeared after twenty-two minutes. Carol’s problem was that few people knew about her condition. Her mother, Hattie knew, but she died. Her best friend John Bowie knew but when he died the stress put Carol into one of her “deaths.” Her husband knew, but he saw her latest coma-like entry as a chance to finally get rid of her, take control of her money, and escape from a life lived in her shadow. Husband Dwight was confident that Carol had told no one else. He was right. At Bowie’s death, Carol knew she had to tell someone else and had to decided to tell her maid/attendant/friend Sara but in the midst of informing her, Carol slipped away.
Carol did not simply enter a vegetative state when she experienced a mini-death. She entered a place she called the Howling. It was noisy and populated by some monstrous entities (collectively called “The Rot” or the “Rotting). She could also try some mental tricks, such as imagining a candle or a light, which might hasten her return to consciousness. Carol was not completely cut off from the world; she could hear what was going on around her. This was bad news for Dwight because he talked to himself about how glad he was to get rid of her and she overheard. For this latest session, Dwight knew he had to get her buried within two days; she might reemerge at any time after that. He also had to bury her without examination by a doctor or coroner as they might detect a faint, erratic heartbeat.
There is one other character that has knowledge of Carol’s condition, James Moxie, a former lover from several years in the past who had intentionally deserted her because he could not take the pressure of her coma lapses. He worried he might accidentally cause her death. He agonized over his decision to leave her to such an extent that he became a “gentleman outlaw.” Carol had revealed his existence and their romantic history to Fara. This friend was suspicious of several actions by Dwight and decided to send a telegram informing him that Carol was dead. Moxie, of course, knew that Carol was not dead. Knowing that the planned burial was to be in two days, Moxie determined to get to the town of Harrow before the burial happened.
Dwight found out about the telegram. Through the evil Lafayette who had connections to the underworld, Dwight decided to hire an assassin to solve problems. Lafayette chose one of the weirdest assassins in fiction, a man with two artificial legs that contained supplies of oil with which to start arson fires. This character by himself is worth listening to the novel.
The race is on to either save or bury Carol. Several other weird and strange characters will appear as well as several supernatural ones which will appear and disappear. I will only make one final comment about the setting.
Malerman has created a world that initially appears as something out of the Old West, with modifications. Nothing in the world exists in this novel outside of the Trail. Along the Trail there are several settlements or small towns. They each have an individual character and are inhabited by characters such as outlaws, professional assassins, possible magicians, and supernatural forces. Although impressive, I believe some of the constructs were purposefully skeletal. More books can be written.
I give this performance five stars in its genre. This means if you like weird, you will love this. The narration by Dan John Miller is great. The audiobook is approximately eleven hours.