Jack didn’t know what to call the nameless, skeletal creature that slunk into her house in the dead of night, stealing the very things she loved the most. So she named him The Toy Thief… There’s something in Jack’s past that she doesn’t want to face, an evil presence that forever changed the trajectory of her family. It all began when The Toy Thief appeared, a being drawn by goodness and innocence, eager to feed on everything Jack holds dear. What began as a mystery spirals out of control when her brother, Andy, is taken away in the night, and Jack must venture into the dark place where the toys go to get him back. But even if she finds him, will he ever be the same?
- Title: The Toy Thief
- Series: Fiction Without Frontiers
- Author: D.W. Gillespie
- Publisher: Flame Tree Press
- ISBN: 1787580482
- Publication Date: October 18, 2018
- Content Warnings: Suicide
I’d like to thank Flame Tree Press for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Toy Thief‘s title monster is the stuff of nightmares, so ghastly that my mind can only conjure him up in partial images before it shuts down completely, but as a whole the book is really a family drama disguised as a horror story. (Though perhaps all family drama is a horror story, depending on who’s telling it.) D.W. Gillespie’s novel follows Jack, a 9-year-old girl, and her 13-year-old brother Andy as they stumble upon the existence of a fearsome monster who breaks into their house at night to steal toys. When they realize that the monster is also hurting Andy, they decide to fight back, setting off a chain of events that will determine the course of the rest of their lives.
Jack narrates the book, alternating between the present day when she is an adult and flashbacks to her childhood as she and Andy face down the Toy Thief. The narrative structure buoys the novel’s central theme of innocence lost; adult Jack, who is frankly kind of an asshole, looks back on her childhood and sadly but unsentimentally pinpoints the moments when she and her brother lost the best parts of themselves. The Toy Thief is responsible for many of these moments, but he is not solely to blame. Most of Jack and Andy’s troubles began long before they ever met the monster. Jack tells us at the beginning of the book that her mother died while giving birth to her. Jack never forgave herself for that “sin,” and Andy didn’t either. Their father did the best he could to raise them after losing his wife, but he was largely absent as a parent. As Jack tells it (and she may not be the most reliable narrator, but I believe her on this), there was never going to be a happy ending for this family.
The scenes with the Toy Thief are incredibly creepy, particularly the ones in Jack’s bedroom. There’s a moment involving a Polaroid camera that I can’t stop thinking about when I’m trying to sleep; I’m considering sending Gillespie my Ambien bill. These creepy scenes don’t make up a large portion of the book, though. As I said, this reads less like a balls to the wall monster story and more like an introspective account of family dysfunction with occasional scenes of supernatural terror. For D.W. Gillespie, family drama is horror, and his novel The Toy Thief shows that one way or another, we all lose our innocence.
It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it a great deal. I give this book 4 out of 5 coffins.