Book Review: The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach

The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach

“Duérmete mi niño, duérmete me ya…

Que viene el Coco y te comerá.”

“Sleep child, sleep now…

Or else the Coco will come and eat you”

El Cucuy or El Coco, depending on the country, appears in the old lullaby above and is sung to young children at night. The boogeyman is the American version of this creature that is used to not only put kids to sleep but warn them that if they behave badly, a dark creature from the shadows would come out and swallow them whole.

I have my own memories of this lullaby. On nights I couldn’t sleep, my mom would sing this lullaby to me. In a strange way, it was comforting but never did I think that El Cucuy would re-enter my life, especially in a more haunting and menacing manner.

Adam Mansbach’s The Dead Run is built around the myth of El Cucuy and is set in the Texas-Mexico border. The fluidity of the setting caters to the eventful and horror-packed story as the chapters move between various characters, both bad and good.

But this novel is more than the typical struggle between good and evil. The characters are constantly questioning everything they’ve ever known, from morals to people’s identities. Even the reader, who has a front seat to each character’s thoughts, will grow doubts within them.

Mansbach begins this bone-chilling world with a prologue, whose character never appears again in the novel. It masterfully ends with the ripping of the character’s flesh by an unforeseen dead girl from beneath the earth, foreshadowing the gore sprinkled throughout the novel. Then we meet Galvan, an American and “contraband runner”, who ironically gets thrown into a Mexican jail after trying to save a young prostitute from a couple of guys at a bar who try to abuse her.

Once he’s in jail, things begin to get strange again. After a big jail brawl that Galvan unfortunately gets involved in, he’s taken below the jailhouse, into complete darkness and in the hands of El Cucuy, the name given to an obscure but powerful character/creature that no one can really describe until Mansbach gives him his own chapter. Adding to the eeriness, everyone in the jail, even the guards, fall under El Cucuy’s power. He forces Galvan to deliver a metal box across the desert with a couple other inmates as his guards. Galvan’s destination is unknown, the purpose of it even more mysterious. All he knows is that whatever the box contains, it is beating.

Galvan’s opposite, in terms of location, becomes Bob Nichols, a sheriff in a small town of Texas. He is thrown into the world of the strange when he is called up to see the crime scene of a teenage girl whose body was dug only halfway in. This girl becomes one of many female teenagers who’ve been disappearing in Mexican and American border towns. Soon Nichols gets involved in the search for a recently abducted teenage girl, Sherry.

Sherry, another important character, is the daughter of a former member of a cult connected to El Cucuy. Although she is abducted like the other girls, she is able to escape the gruesome death fallen upon the others. But escaping is the easy task, staying alive becomes the most difficult part and the thing the keeps the reader on edge.

It’s definitely a difficult task to explain the plot of the novel; connecting all the characters would mean giving away the juicy meat of it all. And although the constant change between characters can seem daunting at first, it eventually becomes the most thrilling aspect of the novel. Each chapter leaves the character in a pivotal moment, and you’re pushed to keep flipping the pages. Mansbach intelligently shapes myth into something possible. For instance, El Cucuy, who’s the high priest of an ancient temple and threatens to bring havoc, is encapsulated in human form and given a past that almost makes the reader feel something other than hatred for him.

The biggest flaw of the novel also stems from the plethora of characters the reader is confronted with. There just isn’t enough space for the characters to develop properly. Most of the emotions I felt while reading came from the action and the jaw-dropping surprises typical of a thriller; none were for the characters. Also, there was a lot of humor from the male characters, especially at the most dire situations, making it awkward and further distancing me from any emotional connection.

Other than that, The Dead Run is a book I’d recommend for anybody interested in some skin-tingling reading that might possibly leave you with a nightmare or two. Also, Mansbach’s writing is more than pleasing, and even prose-like at times. If you ever walk by The Dead Run, or any of Mansbach’s books, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it straight to the cashier.

For the book trailer, click here.

Christian Benavides