The Barnes & Noble Review
Novels come and novels go. Some are good, some not so good. But once in a blue moon, you'll stumble upon a work of fiction that's great. Great fiction melds reality with fantasy with no seams showing. And Doug Clegg's The Halloween Man starts out in a scenario that could arise straight from today's newspapers. Psycho-religious cults and psycho religion. Psycho teenagers and psycho crimes. And psychos abducting kids. In Clegg's very heavy opening, we've got a seemingly chain-smoking dirtball named Stony Crawford kidnapping a 12-year-old boy from a Branch Davidian-ish cult of Texas wackos called the Rapturists. At once, the reader is at odds with his/her initial perceptions. What's going on here? Is Stony just a run-of-the-mill freakjob kid-snatcher, or is there a more deliberate purpose to this abduction?
And what the hell is locked up in his glove compartment?
Here, all the makings of a mainstream thriller get twisted into something much more as Clegg stokes the creative furnace to develop a novel of monumental scope, part horror, part psychological drama, part gothic, with trimmings that include tragic rites of passage, lost love, and violent sociopathies. What Clegg has done here is produce a paramount work so ingeniously rich, dark, and intricate that, in my own ten-novel career, I can scarcely believe it. I'm even jealous. This is the hardest kind of book to pull off, but Clegg does it effortlessly and to maximum effect. This is a big novel composed of multiple concepts, characters, and viewpoints, a story told by stories within stories, secretswithinsecrets, myths built upon more myths, one whose horrors unfold as shadows within shadows.
But before I go on, let me tell you a bit about the author. Douglas Clegg has for years proved himself one of the masters of the supernatural thriller, sharpening his craft with such preeminent short stories as "White Chapel" (from Love in Vein) and "O Rare and Most Exquisite" (from the British anthology Lethal Kisses), as well as his a number of successful novels, including Goat Dance, The Children's Hour, and, under his Andrew Harper pseudonym, Bad Karma. Bad Karma, landing on several bestseller lists, brought him a wide audience for his mainstream thrillers. But now, with this, Clegg returns to the all-out novel of terror, and the effort instantly drop-kicks the reader into a harrowing nightmare.
The story moves on, like peeling back layers of an onion, as Clegg takes us back to the origin of Stony's madness his childhood. Beginning with his birth in the New England coastal village of Stonehaven, Stony Crawford has always been in the eye of a mystery that he can't decipher. When he's 15, and falls in love with Lourdes Maria Castillo, he thinks his life is just beginning. But just as love hits him, so do the responsibilities of adulthood. Lourdes is pregnant, and now they must make some tough decisions. Meanwhile, there's the dark and brooding presence of the Crown mansion. This is a summer home for one of America's wealthier families, a dynasty built on war and exploitation that can trace its ancestry nearly as far back as royal families do. At the center of the Crowns is young Diana, a 20-something beauty who has a reason for seducing Stony's older brother, Van. Van is a prime bad guy, a temperamental nasty teenager who is subdued and controlled by Diana. Like her namesake goddess, Diana rides and hunts in the nearby woods, corrupting Van as she teaches him a love for blood sports.
When the sport becomes human, Van is too mired in his own prison of lust and nightmare. In between we meet a man named Alan Fairclough, a rich antiphilosopher/de Sade-esque human monster, tracing mythic lore for a diabolical end. Fairclough makes the doctor in "Hellraiser II" look like Mr. Rogers he orders up children for his debaucheries "like ordering groceries." Fairclough has spent his life searching for an ecstatic religious experience...and now he's discovered one.
See, there's something else going on at the Crown place. Inside the mansion, there's a chapel made of stone, but no cross hangs over its altar. The Crowns are keeping some creature trapped in a metal coffin, a creature that might be an angel or a demon. Stony's friend, the blind woman Nora Chance, tells him old stories of Stonehaven, of the night the Halloween Man, a bogeyman from the 17th century, rose from his grave to take revenge upon an entire village. As Halloween night approaches, Stony feels a darkness settling over the cursed town.
Intricate enough yet? Soon Stony gets to face the heart of this evil mystery, and the story soars as we come to understand why the adult Stony would kidnap this little boy and bring him to this desolate place...
Combining both the quiet horror of a Charles Grant with the all-out spectacles of a Stephen King, Clegg's storytelling has never been better. The Halloween Man is a brilliant novel, up there with the best of Straub, King, and Koontz, and one of the most original tales of terror to come along in quite a while. Don't miss it!
Edward Lee, barnesandnoble.com
The Halloween Man is one of the best horror novels that I’ve read in years. It’s got a great story and it doesn’t feel like a repeat of the same old story, like a lot of other horror novels you’ll find on a local bookstore shelf. I had never read anything by Clegg before reading this novel, but now I’m going to go out and get the rest of his books. If you’ve never heard of Clegg either, or are a fan of horror fiction, get this book right now.
In The Halloween Man one of the characters explains she doesn't tell scary stories: "All my stories are the truth and about human love. Human love comes in all forms." And, although she does not say so, you soon realize that love involves sacrifice and fear. The Halloween Man is about overwhelming love and devastating terror, human strength and supernatural power, and the eternal cycle of death and re-birth. Like other members of a new generation of horror writers, Clegg abandons the traditional trope of good vs. evil (what David Hartwell calls the moral allegorical stream of horror) instead exploring a grey zone of redemption and That Which Should Not Be. By building on cultural myths and the psychology of a quest for truth and identity, the author mainstreams his story in a way that will still appeal to readers who seek the emotional effect the moral allegorical brings. Why is this important? Because commercial horror, the realm of the bestseller, has been defined for a generation by the good vs. evil tradition -- and Clegg may prove to be a writer who can re-define "what the commercial audience wants" for the next generation.
Centering around a compelling protagonist, Stony Crawford, The Halloween Man has the attributes of a bestseller partially because it can be blurbed with gothic hyperbole like "only Stony Crawford holds the key to the power of the chilling mystery of Stonehaven, and to the power of the unspeakable creature trapped within a summer mansion" and "ancient secrets and terrifying tales of unnamable horror" -- yadayadayada. But -- packed with vivid imagery; a broadly scoped, but fast-paced plot; powerful, evocative writing; superb characterization; and facile intelligence -- The Halloween Man is more than its blurbage could ever convey.
The story itself is impossible to boil down to a paragraph -- and maybe that's something else it offers modern readers used to the necessarily simplistic plots of 90 minutes of film. The Halloween Man might make a good mini-series or movie -- but one that enevitibly loses much in translation. It would earn the book-selling sobriquet -- "Yeah, cool, but read the book, it's better!"
With an already solid body of work (Goat Dance, Breeder, Neverland, Dark Of The Eye, The Children's Hour,the "Andrew Harper"-penned Bad Karma) Douglas Clegg has given horror lovers the best Halloween gift possible -- an entertaining spinetingler written with unique style and in no one's tradition -- but respectful of what came before. Little Leisure Books and its perspicacious editor Don D'Auria may already have what bigtime publishers have so fruitlessly been searching for -- the Next Big Name in Horror.
Read an Excerpt
Prologue from The Halloween Man by Douglas Clegg
The shattering of glass and metal, as some unseen intruder broke the window,
did not wake him.
A voice in his head whispered, "Your soul."
The boy shivered. The rain outside, and the wind that blew across the
near-desolate room, across the old woman's face as she too lay back in some
dream, he knew this but none of it could draw him up from sleep; the crunch
and squeal of a door opening, of glass being stepped upon, all of this played
at the edge of his consciousness, but he could not tug away from the dream
that had grabbed him.
The voice whispered, "Your heart."
His eyelids fluttered open for a moment, and then the boy closed them again,
as if the real world were the dream, and his inner world, the truth.
Even the mindpain was only a shredded curtain, blowing against a window of
The boy dreamed on. His inner eyes opened onto the other world, the one of
insane geometries, of orange lightning, of fire that rained from trees like
leaves falling, of the birds rising from the water their impossibly pure
white wings spreading across the burning sky. As the sky filled with bloody
swans, he saw the dark ram with its golden eyes shining as it galloped
towards him across the surface of the unbroken water. Then the eels wriggling
across the glassy surface, turning the brown water red with their wakes. The
ram rode across their backs, its hooves beating like knives on stones. The
Azriel Light came up from its breath, forming crystalline in the mist of air,
and then burned across the world. What was unspeakable found voice and its
bleating froze the air for a moment hacked from the fabric of time as the
secret of all stabbed at his ears.
Someone tried to wake him from it. The mindpain came back like a bolt of
lightning, burning along his neural pathways. The boy's eyes opened, his
dream torn apart.
The man shook him awake and held a hand over his mouth. The room came back
with its shadows of curtains and half-opened cupboards. The trill of a
mockingbird outside the window. The shroud of dawn. The room that always
seemed too small for all of them. The others slept on around him.
The man wore a dark leather jacket and jeans, his dark hair in need of a cut,
and the smell from him was almost sweet -- like sage on the desert after a
"You Satan?" the boy asked in a hushed tone of reverence. Fear was not there.
He didn't sense it. He didn't feel it from the man, and it wasn't within him.
He knew, somehow, the man would be there. He knew just as he knew that his
dream had foretold something.
"I could be," the man whispered, his breath all cigarettes, "If you keep
quiet, you'll live. Understand?"
The boy nodded. The mindpain blossomed against his small skull. When it came
on, as it usually did after one of the Great Meetings, it would blast within
his head like the worst headache. Sometimes his nose would bleed from it.
Sometimes he'd go into convulsions. He never knew how hard it would hit, he
just knew it was PAIN. He knew it HURT. The mindpain didn't let go until it
was good and ready to.
The boy felt something pressed against his side.
"That's right," the man whispered. "It's a gun. I will kill you if you make a
noise or try to fight me. Or if you try to do what I know you can do."
The boy began shivering, and wasn't sure if he could will himself to stop. He
wanted to be back in his dream. It felt like ants were crawling all over his
arms and legs. Ants stinging him all over, and then tickling along his neck.
He wanted to swat and scratch, but he was afraid the man might use the gun.
The boy had seen a jack rabbit get shot clean in half once. He didn't need to
imagine it happening to himself.
But the markings on him, the drawings...
He knew they were moving, the pictures on his shoulders. He wished he could
scrape them from his flesh. He wanted to tell the stranger with the gun about
them, about how they meant bad things when they began moving, but the boy
knew this would do no good.
The man grinned as he lifted the boy up, wrapping a shabby blanket around
him. The boy's last view of what he had come to call home was the old woman
lying there staring at him. Blood sluiced from between her lips, and tears
bled down in rivulets from her eyes. The mattress beneath her was soaked red.
Her fingers were still curled around a small amulet she kept with her,
nothing more than a locket, a good luck charm.
The boy was too tired to fight, and weakened, too, by the previous day's
performance. Mindpain always came after the show. Mindpain was like what the
Great Father had called a hangover. It was the morning after. That was a
problem for him, it sapped him of strength, and even when he had tried to
kick out at the man, he could barely move his legs.
The man would probably kill him. The boy knew this is what kidnappers usually
did. He had watched late night TV shows like "America's Most Wanted" and knew that kidnappers rarely kept a kid alive.
The boy tried not to think of the gun.
Tried to remember the Great Father holding his arms out, his hands open to
him. "I will be your comfort in the valley of the shadow," the Great Father
This was the valley of the shadow of death. This kidnapper and his gun and
his blanket and the red stain on the mattress with the old woman's mouth wide
Thinking about it, the boy winced. The hammering in his head grew stronger.
The pounding of the rain on the roof seemed unbearable. It was a terrible
rain, it had come at first as ice and then tiny pebbles hitting the
corrugated tin roof, until finally, it was just water. God is pissin' on us
on accounta our sins, that's what the old woman who took care of him would
say, her Texas twang increasing with her years. She was dead now. She was in
whatever Great Beyond existed, the boy knew. She was in the pictures that
covered him now, as were all things that were no more. If the mindpain hadn't
descended that night, weakening him further, he might've been able to
struggle against this evil man who took him. Even though the blanket covered
the boy's ears, it was as if the hoofbeats of wild horses were beating down
upon him from heaven.
The kidnapper threw him into the backseat of a car. Slammed the door. As they
drove off, the boy glanced back at the place he'd called home and knew in his
heart he would never see it again. Dawn was just bursting from the far
horizon. Rain accompanied it, the first fresh drops hitting the car windows,
dirt rinsing down. The pain in the boy's head grew, and he could feel the
tingling begin along his back and shoulders. He knew that whatever was
supposed to start, all the things that he'd been warned about by the Great
Father, would come to pass now.
Through him, the radiance would come, like electricity through the idiot
wires of the gods.
His skin felt molten.
--From The Halloween Man, by Douglas Clegg. © October 1998 , Douglas Clegg, used by permission.