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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Five years ago, Matthew Galen left the town of Summerfell, hoping to never return. But when he gets word that his best childhood friend, A. G., has been locked up in a supermax mental hospital, Matt has no choice but to make tracks back home. A. G. has been accused of crimes that make Charles Manson look stable (for instance, when the cops finally nab A. G., they find him sitting placidly on the front porch, cradling the desiccated corpse of a young girl). Hence, as Hexes opens, we suspect that Matthew has returned to find out what happened.
But that ain't exactly the case. See, Matthew already knows.
Something's rotten in the town of Summerfell, something really rotten, like fish guts in the sun for a week. Missing persons, disinterred graves, mind-boggling acts of insanity. It's all got something to do with A. G...and with Matthew as well. There's a bizarre link between these two former friends. I'd love to tell you what it is — but then I'd ruin the story!
Let me exercise some reviewer's license for a sec, and give a crash-course on the history of modern horror fiction. The late '80s to early '90s proved a heyday for horror fiction. The market was ripe, and it got to the point at which New York publishers were releasing more than a dozen original paperback horror titles per month. Eventually, though, the output exceeded demand, and then...poof.
Horror fiction died. Bad titles and drooping sales caused a New York marketing gag reflex. After that, the only people who could continually sell horror fiction were folks with last names like King, Rice, and Barker.Butafter years of dry-heaving, the New York houses have realized that business is cyclic, and the demand for horror is back, which is why a fair share of excellent mass-market paperbacks have suddenly been cropping up in the bookstores. (Check out Doug Clegg, Michael Marano, and Mary Ann Mitchell, to name only a few.) Tom Piccirilli has been a writer in the trenches for a number of years, with something like a hundred short stories published to date, and a bunch of novels sold in various genres. His crime novel The Dead Past was recently released by Berkley to great reviews; and look for his upcoming works Deep Into That Darkness Peering, a giant collection of horror stories, and The Night Class, a new horror novel. Piccirilli is versatile enough to write in several fields. But I like his horror best, and here's why.
Even today, if you ask typical New York editors what they're really looking for in the occult/supernatural/horror field, they'll say big horror.
What do they mean by that? Horror that serves as something larger than so-called genre works. Horror that transcends its past of goth vampires, evil children, and a hundred different variations of haunted houses. Big horror is a kind of fiction that rivals in quality the King-Rice-Barker triumvirate. Big horror is something that's more than just "horror"; it's popular fiction. And with Hexes, Piccirilli has achieved this feat. He has produced a work that appeals to not only horror diehards but also the "bestseller" readership. This finely sculpted novel takes all the elements and traditions that we've grown to love about horror fiction and has expanded them into a bold new realm. This is more than a horror story. It's a story of lost loves, corrupted rites of passage and corrupted childhoods, and real people summoning the courage to reface the parts of their pasts that they don't think they have the guts to confront again. There's a big aspect to this book that, I think, equals the exotic imagery of a Barker, the classic plotwork of a Rice, and the true-life characterization of a King.
But this doesn't mean that Piccirilli has filed down the edges of the work to seem more "popular." There's stuff in this occult opus that will lift the brow of even the steeliest horror addict: libidinous, gelatinous demons, ghosts that are far more than ghosts, and infant corpses that serve as "locks" against incalculable evil. Without spoiling too much of the story, I can tell you that our protagonist, Matthew Galen, hasn't returned to Summerfell as much as he's been forced to by his sense of guilt...and something more unspeakable than you can imagine. From the moment that Matthew walks into that psych-ward cell to interview his lost and presumably psychotic friend A. G., you'll be hooked, because things definitely are not as they seem. This is all part of Piccirilli's dark art. With more surprises than an old Hitchcock anthology and an opening as powerful as The Silence of the Lambs, Piccirilli craftily leads his readers into a terrifying siphon of psychic mayhem, the dead slipping back into the domain of the living, and more occult arcana than you'll find in an ancient grimoire bound in human skin. This book is serious business, folks. It's horrifying when an insane mother tries to breast-feed her dead baby. But when that dead baby starts talking, you know there's a world of trouble coming down the pike.
Matthew Galen knows this even before he sets foot in Summerfell. What happens after that is a reading experience you'll never forget.
Edward Lee is the author of the critically acclaimed horror novel Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman (coauthored with Elizabeth Steffen) and "The Pig," found in the extreme-horror collection Inside the Works.