I wanted to like this book a whole lot more than I did. It had been a while since I read a straight-up horror novel and I wanted that visceral experience, that suspense, that fear of the unknown.
But what I got was pretty much a cliched story about a group of boys fighting evil with no help from clueless adults. The whole novel seemed like a Bradbury wannabe in which the author trotted out all his best childhood memories and assigned them to his cast of characters. This wasn’t my first Dan Simmons novel, but it is the one I’ve enjoyed the least.
First, the boys don’t think or act like boys. They reason too well, applying all the logic that has come to be standard in this kind of horror novel. The parents are cardboard cutouts that are usually absent. What kind of parent will let their pre-teen boy run around after dark when people are coming up missing right and left? How do the parents know absolutely nothing about the manifestation of evil that has been in their town for sixty years?
The writing was pretty much paint-by-the-numbers horror. A not very likable kid vanishes first, some weird things are seen but not connected, our heroes are bullied, there’s an awkward scene with a girl, suddenly everything clicks together and the boys fight evil without even asking for adult help. Also, Simmons continually deviates from the narrative flow to tell little back stories about the boys. This would be okay in the first few chapters, but the book is full of these distractions.
If you’re new to horror, there’s a good chance you’ll love this book. If you’ve been reading the genre for a while, you’ll probably find yourself bored because you pretty much know what’s coming next. I didn’t hate the book. There’s some nice imagery and some scenes reminded me of my own “bike patrol” gang of the mid-1970s, but overall it just felt like a pastiche of Something Wicked This Way Comes.