Book Review - Mr Mumbles (Invisible Fiends #1) - Barry Hutchison (Author)
Recommended for - Children (7-11)
(From the back cover) Kyle hasn't seen Mr Mumbles in years. And, there's a good reason for that: Mr Mumbles doesn't exist. But now Kyle's imaginary friend is back, and Kyle doesn't have time to worry about why. Only one thing matters from on: staying alive...
It's impossible to see a horror series for children nowadays and NOT think back to the legendary Goosebumps series by R.L.Stine. I read title after title when I was younger, enjoyed the accompanying television series, and graduated onto Point Horror when I was a bit older. However, if there was one negative about Goosebumps, it's that you could argue there wasn't really much depth to them - there's a mystery, some sort of creepy thing happens involving it, and it gets sorted by the end of the book, kind of...
Nothing wrong with that whatsoever, as you know what you're getting, and that's a fun read on a new topic each time.
It's great, however, when a series comes along that tries to be much more than that. Step forward please, the Invisible Fiends series by Barry Hutchison. As with most readers, I was first attracted to the cover of one of these books, although in this case it was actually Book 2, Raggy Maggie, that caught my eye. I'm the sort that hates to jump in part way through a series though, so I ordered in book one and waited patiently for it to arrive. When it did, I found a children's horror story that had a good plot, plenty of back story, mysteries that I wanted to explore further, and best of all some genuinely creepy moments.
The hero of the story, Kyle, is an ordinary 12-year old, who had an imaginary friend called Mr Mumbles when he was younger. As is the case with everyone, he forgot about Mr Mumbles with time, but this Christmas, Mr Mumbles comes back to haunt him, wanting revenge for having been forgotten. Mr Mumbles himself is a pretty scary creation, his mouth having been sewn together, and being a Michael Myers-esque monster that never stops coming for you. It's certainly enough to give children the creeps, much more so than the generic monsters in Goosebumps ever did with me. The idea if your imaginary friends coming back in a twisted and evil version, wanting revd he for having been forgotten is brilliantly originally, and worrying for those of us who had imaginary friends - luckily I didn't!
The characters are very well written and full of snappy dialogue. Kyle is a hero that kids can root for, dropped into this situation seemingly out of the blue, but able to step up bravely to try and put things right. He's assisted by a mysterious girl, Ameena, who turns up at just the right time and seems to know exactly what's going on, but there's a lot more to discover about her by the time the book has ended, and we leave not knowing a great deal about HOW she knows it all. Kyle's forgetful grandmother is fun, clearly not as crazy as everyone thinks her to be, and the Big Bad of the story is creepy and manipulative, and oozes evil in that glorious way that villains of children's films do so well.
What makes this world that Barry Hutchison has created so good is the alternative Hell-version of our own Earth that Mr Mumbles comes from, and that Kyle is transported to. It's a world overrun by monsters from our nightmares, and it's clear that someone is trying to break down the barriers between it and our own world. For Kyle, that person is someone far too close to home...It sets up the plot line for the entire series (six books worth) brilliantly, and it's obvious that this isn't the last we've seen of this evil dimension.
Overall, this is a great start to a horror series for children that clearly has depth to it, in a way that an on-going, 'monster of the week', style series could never hope to achieve. I look forward to tackling the next book in the series, Raggy Maggie, which promises to be even creepier, as it features that most frightening of horror movie villains, a little girl with a rag doll...