The first time I heard of Bentley Little, it was regarding this book. The Revelation had won the Bram Stoker award, but The Mailman seemed to be the book that captured so many people's attention. I don't know why it took me so long to getting around to reading it, because all that I had heard about this book was true.
The premise of this novel is pretty silly -- a new mailman starts working in a small town, and uses his position to wreak havoc on the residents -- but I'll be damned if it doesn't work. It works remarkably well. Little perfectly captures the atmosphere of the story, the helplessness of the residents, and the horrors of what the mailman will do. He was able to construct a well-executed story out of a flimsy premise, and it's brilliant. It may not hold up as well to readers who've never lived without high-speed Internet (this was published in 1991, after all), but for those of us who remember paying bills by check, staying in touch with people through letters and phone calls, etc., it's a little chilling to realize how much our lives once depended on the mail.
The story stands alone as an original work, but it also plays homage to "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", since the mailman uses his power to set the residents against one another. The horror isn't just that the mailman has control, and has inhuman powers that help him wreak havoc, but it's also that regular people can be driven to the point where they snap. It also reminded me a little of Needful Things, which released the same year as The Mailman, where fortune and favors serve only to trap those who receive them.
The horror runs a little deeper than that, but Little builds his story up so effectively that just seeing a lone envelope sitting on a counter can creep you out.
Little pushes the boundaries of taste in a few scenes. He's overly graphic in how he describes some of the situations. It's not enough to say that someone committed suicide with a shotgun; he has to go into great detail describing the blood spatter, the remains of the body, and what pieces wound up in which locations. It veers into splatterpunk territory, which makes the story feel juvenile. The descriptions add nothing to the rest of the story, save to gross out the reader. His descriptions are vivid, and memorable, but in these cases unnecessary.
The story isn't deep, and parts of it feel underdeveloped, but it's certainly effective. It's a different sort of horror story than Dark Harvest or The Elementals, but Little captures the fear of a small town threatened by on outsider extremely well. Anyone looking for a well-told, creepy tale of an outsider slowly infiltrating a small town (and this being Halloween, who doesn't?) wouldn't go wrong reading this one.