In the opening chapters of The Conveyance by Brian W. Matthews, I could swear I was reading a Jonathan Kellerman thriller, with Matthews’ protagonist Dr Brad Jordan fulfilling the role of Dr Alex Delaware the gifted child psychologist, while his best mate and small town Michigan cop, Frank Swinicki plays the role of burly slightly crumpled detective, Milo Sturgis, complete with the ‘brown suit that looked like it had come straight off the rack at Kohl’s, a paisley tie and slip on loafers’.
Like Kellerman, Matthews demands attention from the first page, the reader masterfully manipulated into a voyeuristic gawp at the plight of Doug Belle, a kid who’s lost his dad and is now being smothered by his narcissistic mother. We don’t hold out much hope for Belle, at least not if his mother has anything to do with it, but if anyone can help him, it’s Jordan, with his canny insight and instant rapport. Only, on the way home, the doctor is almost killed in a spectacular accident that leaves him bruised and aching. It’s not crucial ‒ Jordan’s fine ‒ but Frank’s going to follow up anyway, because he’s that kind of cop and leaving shit on the highway is dangerous.
As in the Alex Delaware franchise, there’s the happy family backstory in The Conveyance too, but it comes tinged with tension when, after the accident, at their regular cards night, Frank’s wife, Kerri announces that she is pregnant with their third child, while Brad’s wife Toni remains childless and distraught, detail that Matthews weaves straight into the narrative.
The Friday night events behind them, a still-battered Jordan and his wife head out of town to the sleepy Midwest town of Emersville for a change of scene and a spot of holiday shopping. Matthews shines here, painting the Midwest and its inhabitants as boldly as a Wal-Mart sign and with all the rough-cut precision of a Home Depot.
Enter a doll, bought in a tiny gift store just like the one Frank’s wife had the night before:
“Made of cloth, it was fashioned in the image of a little girl, with a cotton print dress, yarn for hair and a mouth made of stitched Xs. Except it didn’t look quite right. The arms were too long, making it look as if it would lope on all fours, and it had buttons for eyes. The flat plastic discs gave the doll an eerie startled look.”
What is it about dolls that conjure up all that is creepy? Something to do with them being miniature people without emotion apart from the ones we project on them ourselves? There’s a sense of heightened awareness, of vigilance. Something sinister in the button-eyed stare, only not entirely, not enough to make us flee.
In any case, as soon as the dolls come on the scene, all semblance with a Kellerman novel is abandoned as Matthews changes it up a level and the story becomes a cross between detective noire and a science fiction classic, doused liberally with the blood of pure horror.
With dialogue that sings and a story that bounces from one bloody encounter to the next as the two friends follow the clues to converge on the truth of the matter, it’s compelling reading. I could not put it down. Highly recommended.
The Conveyance. Beneath the calm waters and pastoral fields of Emersville, a deadly secret lurks. But when psychologist Dr. Brad Jordan stumbles upon the odd happenings in the town, he sets off a series of tragedies that threatens to expose a danger long kept hidden from the world. Relentlessly following a trail of madness, suicide, and murder, he soon finds himself confronted with a massive conspiracy, and a sinister device known as the Conveyance.
Matthews, who holds a graduate degree in psychology, draws on his vast experience as a therapist to weave a tale of abuse, betrayal, hope, and terror. The Conveyance is his third book.