Black Mouth has a familiar horror premise that was popularized by Stephen King in his iconic novel It. The concept is that troubled adults reunite to combat a terror they experienced in their childhood. In this case, Jamie, an alcoholic construction worker, receives a notification that his mother has died. Facing his fears, Jamie returns to West Virginia to reunite with his disabled brother. But, the duo begin to experience the horrors from their childhood regarding a mysterious one-eyed magician. The terror stems from a black pit leading to the town's closed mining shaft.
The supporting characters are Mia and Clay, both of which were Jamie's childhood friends that experienced the trauma as well. Jamie contacts them and soon the foursome are reunited to track down the magician. The author includes a wild card with a hooker-killing lunatic that is also haunted by the magician. The narrative travels from present day events to the 1990s, offering two time periods for readers.
Black Mouth offers a wild emotional ride as these adults, and kids, face small town horrors as well as their own personal traumas. The idea of the evil magician reminded me of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, with an elevated dose of violence and murder. While disturbing, Black Mouth never offered any truly chilling scares, instead focusing on a more visceral level than physical. There were a few surprises, some laughs and cries, and a genuine, heartfelt camaraderie between the characters that helped solidify the story. While not Malfi's best, the talented author is still miles ahead of his contemporaries. Black Mouth is a recommended read.