Book Reviews

Review: The Smashed Man of Dread End (2021) by J.W. Ocker

Got a spooky kid in your house who needs a spooky book? Want a spooky read for yourself? Look no further than the beyond-creepy story of The Smashed Man of Dread End. He lives in your basement wall, in that crack in the concrete. He only comes out at night. And nobody knows what he wants.

A New England family of 4 relocate to a quiet cul-de-sac in a house that strangely seemed to find Noe, the oldest of two girls and the hero of the story. She’s okay with the move, as life and friendships back home were iffy things. A fresh start is just what she needs when a group of morose, off-putting girls give her a simple warning. “Don’t go in your basement at night.” The welcome committee doesn’t intimidate Noe, who goes into the basement and discovers the nightmare living with her family- The Smashed Man. Shocked and worried, she has no choice but to consult with the other Dread Enders to share all that they know about the “thing” and protect themselves and the neighborhood.

Full transparency, I thought this book was straight up terrifying. If I read this from ages 8-12, I would have been RUINED emotionally. The antagonist is a Flat Stanley-like mofo who can hide behind literally anything and looks smashed. Not in a jolly British way, but in a broken bone and bruises sense. And to top it all off, the guy is smiling maniacally the entire time. Nightmare fuel! That is truly my only point that could be viewed negatively; it may be too scary for its target audience. Maybe I’ve peaked or cracked from years upon years of horror 24/7? Who knows? There’s still a small part in all of us, I think, that’s still afraid of the basement.

The metaphysical philosophy landscape that Ocker made for a middle grade novel is just outstanding. He detours from a traditional supernatural plot and veers into territory we should head into more often. His work always remains abundantly true to his passions and interests, which inherently makes it one of a kind. The nods to Poe throughout his stories is also always appreciated. It’s an arguably odd task for a middle aged man to write from the point of view of a 13 year old girl, but Ocker pulls it off naturally and thoughtfully. The fears and rationale of a child all come through the story beautifully, while still being mature enough to connect with as an adult reader. The guy definitely has kids and he knows how they tick. I found the relationship between the two sisters truly touching and the personal challenges they faced with their nighttime conditions was used strategically throughout the story. It was nice to see a lead teen that wasn’t an utter brat, too.

The Smashed Man of Dread End was an exciting, skin-crawling read that will undoubtedly be whispered about from young mouths. The story is kid-focused but emotionally driven and full of enough surprises, believable dialogue, and easy humor to entertain every age of reader. Two skeletal-thumbs up.

“J. W. Ocker is the Edgar Award-winning author of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, A Season with the Witch, and Death and Douglas. His work has appeared in The Guardian, the Boston Globe, CNN, the Atlantic, and other places people stick writing. He’s from Maryland but has lived in New Hampshire for more than a decade. He is also the creator of OTIS: Odd Things I’ve Seen (, where he writes about his visits to oddities of nature, history, art, and culture.”

You can preorder The Smashed Man of Dread End by clicking here.

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