My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The following is an expanded version of my Goodreads review:
Puzzleman (2004/2010) is Christopher Alan Broadstone’s debut horror novel. He has also published short stories, screenplays, lyrics, and poetry. When he is not writing print texts, he works as an indie film writer-director. To date, he has created three short horror films. As if this is not enough work for one person, he is also a film post-production specialist and a musician. He’s currently working on his second horror novel, Heather’s Treehouse.
His first novel’s namesake, Puzzleman (AKA “Conundrum”), is a fascinating antagonist who invites comparison to certain iconic horror villains. Like the Cenobites in Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, he is both human and demonic at the same time. In telling Puzzleman’s back-story, Broadstone weaves him seamlessly into real-world history, so convincingly that the reader almost begins to believe that the narrator’s explanation of past human events is the actual truth.
The Puzzleman is not Satan — or is he? — but in some ways, he is worse. A demonic being with a flesh-and-bones existence, he offers a kind of twisted immortality to his victims that allows him to live off of the life force of others. He has done quite well for himself over the centuries, despite a few setbacks here and there. His fortunes take a turn for the worse, however, when he includes an angrily skeptical young artist and an aging history professor in his evil plans.
The artist, Amanda, is a tough, smart woman from Dallas, Texas, who works in sculpture in a shared studio. She’s angry at God for the death of her infant son, Alan, which led to a divorce from her husband, Erik. She has a term for her grievance against God: “Creator’s-sloth.” She sees God as an uncaring creator who ignores the plight of human beings in the world he has created for them to inhabit.
After buying a mysterious antique earring from a street vendor and trying it on, she immediately begins having paranormal experiences that make her suspect that she’s going insane. It’s clearly not just an earring. In fact, it’s a pair — it inexplicably duplicates itself, leaving her with an earring in each ear. She starts hearing voices and having unusual physical experiences, including the appearance of Puzzleman in the flesh. The Puzzleman begins to haunt and torment her, manipulating her anger, fears, and paranoia for his own ends. Amanda becomes convinced that her son did not really die from SIDS. She becomes hell-bent on finding out what really happened to him. She sets out for Austin, Texas, to track down her estranged ex-husband, Erik, and find out the truth.
What she finds is a much bigger and scarier can of worms than the reader will find opened up in the usual horror novel. Amanda will need the help of others, particularly her friend, Professor Rainbow, to escape the Puzzleman’s “pipeworld” (and its “grumemonsters”) with her body and soul intact. Will she uncover what happened to her son and ex-husband and rescue them? Will she and Rainbow be able to understand and stop the Puzzleman’s plans to add more and more human monsters to the eternal hell of his pipeworld? You’ll just have to read this highly imaginative, painstakingly researched, and well-written horror/thriller/mystery novel to find out.
Disclosure: Mr. Broadstone provided this reviewer with a copy of the Kindle edition of Puzzleman: A Novel, in exchange for a fair and honest review. No financial considerations were involved.