The Hour before Dark

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Overview

As children, they played the Dark Game...

When Nemo Raglan's father is murdered in one of the most vicious killings of recent years, Nemo must return to the New England island he thought he had escaped for good, Burnley Island . . . and the shadowy farmhouse called Hawthorn. But this murder was no crime of human ferocity. What butchered Nemo's father may in fact be something far more terrifying--something Nemo...

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The Hour Before Dark

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Overview

As children, they played the Dark Game...

When Nemo Raglan's father is murdered in one of the most vicious killings of recent years, Nemo must return to the New England island he thought he had escaped for good, Burnley Island . . . and the shadowy farmhouse called Hawthorn. But this murder was no crime of human ferocity. What butchered Nemo's father may in fact be something far more terrifying--something Nemo and his younger brother, Bruno, and sister, Brooke, have known since childhood.

There are secrets buried on Burnley Island.

Within the rooms of Hawthorn, beautiful Brooke Raglan has begun to go mad. She sees faces at the windows and wanders the night, trying to find what she believes is a monster.

Bruno Raglan has wiped the memory of a terrible event from his mind. Now he compulsively picks apart Hawthorn and discovers that within its walls lies a forbidden secret.

As he unravels the mysteries of his past and a terrible night of his childhood, Nemo witnesses something unimaginable . . . and sees the true face of evil . . . while Burnley Island comes to know the unspeakable horror that grows in the darkness.

"Here comes a candle to light you to bed . . .

And here comes a chopper to chop off your head."

"Clegg delivers!" -- John Saul, bestselling author of Midnight Voices.

"Douglas Clegg is one of the best!" -- Richard Laymon, bestselling author of Island and The Traveling Vampire Show.

"Clegg's stories can chill the spine so effectively that the reader should keep paramedics on standby." -- Dean Koontz, bestselling author of From the Corner of His Eye.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In The Hour Before Dark, Douglas Clegg has created a brand-new incarnation of one of horror's most enduring icons: the Bad Place, using it as the principal setting for a compelling drama of murder, madness, and buried family secrets. And with this novel, this stylish, intelligent storyteller reinforces his reputation as one of the most consistently interesting horror writers working in America today.

The tale begins with the gruesome murder of Gordie Raglan, patriarch of the dysfunctional Raglan clan and owner of Hawthorn, a decaying, labyrinthine house on an isolated island off the Massachusetts coast. Among the issues that haunt the Raglan siblings -- all of whom, to some degree, have lost their way -- are vague, shifting recollections of their father's fits of violence and memories of their abandonment, many years before, by their beautiful, willful mother. Clegg uses the conventions of the supernatural horror story to illuminate the history of a lost, unhappy family, a clan shaped -- and warped -- by its hidden history of violence, lies, and manipulation. Beneath the lurid, often chilling surface lies a sympathetic, psychologically acute portrait of a family struggling to confront and overcome the demons of the past. If Pat Conroy had grown up in New England and turned his hand to horror fiction, he might have produced something very much like this disturbing, memorable book. Bill Sheehan

Douglas Clegg
Alongside the dominant stream of horror fiction that, at whatever level of artistic achievement, relies on shock and gore, runs a quieter stream that relies on atmosphere and inference for its unsettling effects (think Machen, Blackwood, sometimes Ramsey Campbell). Clegg (The Infinite; Naomi) has added a superior new title to this latter tradition, with a psychologically astute and genuinely shivery story of a young man who returns to his ancestral home on a remote island offshore Massachusetts. Nemo Raglan, a failed novelist, is back at Hawthorn, on Burnley Island, because his father, Gordie, has been found slaughtered in the family's smokehouse. Also at Hawthorn are Nemo's errant younger brother, Bruno, and their sister, Brooke, a high-strung artist who'd been living with Dad; the siblings' mother had disappeared from the family when they were children. The killer has, weirdly, left no traces and thus no clues; but then much about Hawthorn and the siblings is weird, particularly the game they played as children, a risky form of mind-projection taught them by their father, who used it as a POW, whereby they were able to explore worlds known and unknown. As brothers and sister get reacquainted and ponder the murder, the air grows tense but also dark. Nemo senses an unseen presence; is the house haunted? Clegg delves deep and precisely into the familial ties that bind but also sunder even as he celebrates the magical isolation of a New England island so adrift from the mainland as to be its own planet. Suspenseful and relentlessly spooky, told in economical prose yet peopled by characters as fully realized as one's own blood kin, this is at once the most artful and most mainstream tale yet from one of horror's brightest lights.
Publisher's Weekly -- Starred Review
Publishers Weekly
Alongside the dominant stream of horror fiction that, at whatever level of artistic achievement, relies on shock and gore, runs a quieter stream that relies on atmosphere and inference for its unsettling effects (think Machen, Blackwood, sometimes Ramsey Campbell). Clegg (The Infinite; Naomi) has added a superior new title to this latter tradition, with a psychologically astute and genuinely shivery story of a young man who returns to his ancestral home on a remote island off Massachusetts. Nemo Raglan, a failed novelist, is back at Hawthorn, on Burnley Island, because his father, Gordie, has been found slaughtered in the family's smokehouse. Also at Hawthorn are Nemo's errant younger brother, Bruno, and their sister, Brooke, a high-strung artist who'd been living with Dad; the siblings' mother had disappeared from the family when they were children. The killer has, weirdly, left no traces and thus no clues; but then much about Hawthorn and the siblings is weird, particularly the game they played as children, a risky form of mind-projection taught them by their father, who used it as a POW, whereby they were able to explore worlds known and unknown. As brothers and sister get reacquainted and ponder the murder, the air grows tense but also dark. Nemo senses an unseen presence; is the house haunted? Clegg delves deep and precisely into the familial ties that bind but also sunder even as he celebrates the magical isolation of a New England island so adrift from the mainland as to be its own planet. Suspenseful and relentlessly spooky, told in economical prose yet peopled by characters as fully realized as one's own blood kin, this is at once the most artful and most mainstream tale yet from one of horror's brightest lights. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The brutal murder of his father brings Nemo Raglan back to the New England home of his childhood, where he joins his brother and sister in unraveling the mystery of their father's death and solving the frightening puzzle somehow connected to an old childhood game. The author of The Nightmare Chronicles constructs an eerie psychological tale of supernatural horror that builds suspense gradually as the characters slowly peel back the layers of their past and face the terrors of their shared childhood. Clegg approaches horror with a stark and vital simplicity that is utterly convincing. Fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz will appreciate this atmospheric gem. For most horror collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780843951424
  • Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/12/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 4.24 (w) x 6.76 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

1
A nightmare:

"Do you want to play the Dark Game?"

"No."

"What are you afraid of?" she asks on the other side of the door.

"You," I tell her.

2
The rules for the Dark Game are simple:

First, you need to close your eyes. Do not open them. If necessary, you can use a blindfold. In fact, because kids usually can't keep their eyes closed, blindfolds are recommended.

Second, you need to stay very still for a long time and block out all noise (except for the voice of the chosen master of the Dark Game). You must also block out all smell and all touch, except for the others whose hands you're holding. You have to join hands, and form a circle. But block out everything you can.

Except the voice of the master of the Dark Game.

Third, someone has to be in control of where the Dark Game goes. To recite the litany that begins it. To direct your mind into the game.

And lastly, you must never play the Dark Game once it's dark outside.

At night, it becomes too real. You lose control of it. You can't stop it after dark.

You must start the game in the hour before dark, sometimes called the Magic Hour.

You must stop playing when night falls. Because that's when it changes.

Sometimes, you can't get out of the Dark Game once the dark comes.

The stakes heighten after dark.

It becomes real, then.

It takes you over.

3
A nightmare:

On the other side of the door, her voice again, "Don't be afraid," she says. "Don't be afraid."

The door swings wide, and from outside, in what seems an eternal twilight, she enters with arms outstretched, wanting me.

Wanting me.

"I am here," she says.

"I won't play the Dark Game," I tell her.

"Too late," she says. "You can't stop playing it."

4
I've come to believe that absolute evil has a human face.

And absolute innocence is the brother of evil.

I was once innocent, but then I had begun playing that game.

5
When I was nine, I went wandering on a chilly early evening.

My father owned a vast property called Hawthorn, which included a house, some woods, and a smokehouse, as well as a stream and duck pond. It seemed like an endless world to me then.

A man found me in the woods -- a man whose face I have somehow erased from my memory as part of a feverish week that vanished for me as a child.

He told me that I had blood on my face. He washed it off in an ice-cold stream, splashing it all over my forehead and hands. I had no cuts on me at all. but I felt as if I'd been bitten up by mosquitoes even in the middle of winter.

He walked me through the night-smitten woods until we approached the back of my home.

It was a moment out of time that I could not place within my other memories -- why I had wandered, or why I had what might've been blood on my face, or even the face of the man who had washed blood from me.

That was childhood; it ended; I closed its door; I grew up, and moved away.

Many years later, when he was in his fifties and I was in my late 20s, my father wandered at twilight, and opened the door to a mystery.

PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE

1
It attacked with the ferocity of a wild animal.

2
At the point my father, Gordie Raglan, entered the smokehouse, his life was nearly over.

Even if you'd told him that, it probably wouldn't have stopped him.

Knowing my father, he probably had been thinking about the Boston Celtics and if they were going to kick any ass that winter. Or whether or not he was going to have shepherd's pie-without-peas for supper when he got back. Or how he was going to repair the half-rotted roof of the cabin down by the duck pond when he knew he should just let the cabin fall apart.

He was a guy who was fairly transparent in his thinking and, though smart, was a simple man. He liked his world to be orderly.

He always looked to me -- in photographs and my childhood memories -- like a solid structure. A man created for purpose, duty, and care. Even at his worst (he had his terrible days, as all men who are fathers will have them), he seemed a moral compass within a world spun out of control.

He liked the people around him to be somewhat predictable, which is no doubt why he stayed on Burnley Island most of his life. His main loves were, in fact, the Boston Celtics, what was for supper, home repairs, and his daughter's two dogs, which, by right of whose house they lived in, were his as well. They were rescued greyhounds named for Welsh legend (Mab and Madoc) that might've met terrible fates if he and Brooke hadn't gone over to the racetrack in Rhode Island a few years previous to grab two pups who weren't quite right for racing. Perhaps all he thought about was what was bringing him out in the storm in the first place. There were, at the time, a thousand guesses for this, but none of them got near the mark.

He hadn't called the dogs. This was unusual for him. He might go out to see who was in the driveway, or what a certain noise had been, but he nearly always called the greyhounds out when he did that. Not that he went out often at twilight or most evenings. Not that Mab and Madoc would've gone with him -- those dogs dreaded foul weather as much as they did the local veterinarian's office.

But still, he would've called them. If he had, my sister, Brooke, would've known he was leaving. She was at the other end of the house -- down the boxcar hallways that led like a puzzle from one room to another without end, built that way by some ancient Raglan with a bizarre sense that every room should open on another room. Brooke was down in what was called the second great room, with the dogs at her feet. Reading a mystery novel, halfway falling asleep, having been up most of the previous night.

That afternoon, Gordie Raglan had drunk half a mug of hot cocoa before he left the house. He had a fondness, in November, for comfort foods -- chicken soup, warm cocoa, and shepherd's pie. Cocoa was his favorite. He loved it more laced with a bit of bourbon, but this particular night, there was nary a drop in the house.

He no doubt had chewed gum as he headed for the front door -- Wrigley's Spearmint or Big Red, either one could be his favorite of the day. He wore his funny red cap -- a red wool scully hat that belonged once to one of his sons, but to which he had become attached over the past several years. He drew on a red parka that he'd received as a present the previous Christmas. There were boots by the door, but he chose to wear his scuffed, ten year worn Oxfords. It was his storm outfit. No umbrella. Dad didn't believe in umbrellas.

He did take a flashlight with him.

The cap made him look youthful or silly, depending upon who was asked about it. His peppered gray hair no doubt stuck out of the skully hat. My father was generally late with haircuts once November had begun, unless his daughter had been after him about it.

He rarely left the house after three or four p.m. anymore, unless something needed immediate attention around the grounds of his home.

But something got him outside, during the storm.

3
Barely light out anymore, the fury of the storm brought an early veil of darkness with it.

Something made him put down the mug, slip his shoes on, leaving them untied as he went out the front door of his home. He had a flashlight with him. Around the house, he always kept a flashlight by his side, as much as he kept his spot heater in whichever room he chose to occupy.

Only a man as stubborn as my Gordie Raglan would've traipsed out in the worst storm of November, to do some mysterious errand in what amounted to a rundown stone shelter that had been locked up for years.

It had been a tempest out at sea, but on the island, it was a rough kind of magic -- a Nor'easter blowing down across the bogs and ponds and the slips and beaches, through the woods with their sheltering pines, with all the beauty that a terrific storm brings with it -- the overly dramatic light of creation itself swirling through that island.

(I had loved the winter storms when I was a boy. I had gone out into them sometimes and held my arms out -- imagine a boy of ten doing that -- as if it were my own power that brought the wind and rain.)

But this particular night: the rain was incessant. Maddening.

The lightning, a constant flashbulb in the eyes. Thunderheads roared overhead like drunken nordic gods.

He must've been swearing under his breath. Given his limp and what he had always called the "old pain," doubly frustrated, for at one point his left shoe went into the mud, deep.

He left it there, a few feet from the entrance to the smokehouse.

The smokehouse itself was hardly much of a shelter. It was a small one room stone house that had at one time been the place where meat was hung to smoke and dry. It had been kept locked for as long as anyone could remember.

He had the key with him.

4
He would not have been considered tall by any stretch of the imagination, but there was something in his broad shoulders and barrel chest that indicated a large, imposing figure. Upon entering the small room, he smelled old smoky odor and the pungent stink of earth in the air. Behind him, the door slid shut -- creaking with the wind that howled outside.

He spun around, annoyed.

The rain had been coming down in sheets for nearly an hour. He directed the flashlight's beam to the small, thick square of glass that was the only window. The sky darkened with clouds and a somber grayness. The door banged back and forth briefly, then shut again. Branches scraped the low rooftop.

He glanced back into the darkness, perhaps.

Then up -- the ceiling, highest at about six feet, was arched. He looked back at the door and its window.

The square of light through its glass.

Twilight outside. Rain began hitting the window.

He shot the flashlight beam around the ceiling. He glanced down along the rough stone walls.

He might have heard what would be a clash of metal, like a knife being sharpened on stone.

He heard sound -- perhaps someone behind him?

The first slice came down on his shoulder.

He dropped the flashlight.

The next slice caught him on the back of the leg. Something stung the place between his shoulder blades. A cold blade thrust into his back.

After an hour, the flashlight's beam grew feeble.

He was not yet dead.

The door to the small stone structure swung back and forth, and then closed again.

It grew dark outside, from descending night and the storm. Branches of the old hawthorn tree scraped the roof as the rain battered down. Lightning flashed across the gently sloping hills and rocky pastures, followed by a rolling boom of thunder.

The storm, the end of a powerful Nor'easter that had begun off the coast further south and had ridden up into New England on the Jet Stream, howled and screamed and groaned through the night.

The lights went out at the farmhouse that stood less than a mile away as the rain turned gradually to sleet and then snow with the falling temperature.

The first snow of the year swept through on the heels of the storm.

It frosted the fields and woods.

There was something about the New England woods, and in particular, this island off the Atlantic coast, off Massachusetts, that created a very real isolation within the beauty of a winter storm. The first snow, a dusting across the pines and oaks, with the last stalks of the balding pasture thrust up through the glittering whiteness.

A pastoral moment: the farmhouse in the distance, the stone smokehouse, the swirls of fine snow, the smell of woodfire in the air from chimneys near and far, and the night, as it descended.

5
This is the story of my family.

Call me Nemo, for that was the name my sister saddled me with when I was a kid. It stuck. Other things stuck from childhood, as well -- including the Brain Fart.

The Brain Fart was a week in the memories of my brother, sister, and I that had just disappeared without warning. We imagined it, after awhile, as an enormous gassy cloud that had shot out of our ears and floated like mist somewhere above the island before drifting off to sea. By the time I'd turned 28, that Brain Fart seemed to hover in the air again. None of us knew what had caused the Brain Fart. It had seemed spontaneous, although a certain amount of fever had accompanied it. We had lost a week, which, for children like us, seemed like an entire season.

I suspected even then that the week of the Brain Fart was important, and in the end, I guess it was.

But the beginning was my father, and how he had walked into the smokehouse and set in motion a mystery that drew me back to the island in the first place.

And how my sister, Brooke, had found him.


Copyright 2002 Douglas Clegg. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 39 )
Rating Distribution

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(26)

4 Star

(7)

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(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2013

    Good Book

    I really enjoyed this novel by Douglass Clegg. I have read several of his books and this one is my favorite so far. The story line flowed smoothly. Very creepy and intense in some sections. I did figure out what the family secret was about one quarter of the way through, but it did not distract from the story at all. You will enjoy it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    WOW. I couldn't stop reading.

    Will read more from this author but not just yet. Not a book to read in the dark by the light of your Nook.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2004

    Don't play the Dark Game after sunset

    Clegg writes yet another horror novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat. When Nemo has to return to his childhood home after his father's brutal murder he finds himself defending his sister because everyone believes that she killed her father. Someone, or something had a score to settle with the old man. Surely nothing human could have committed such a heinous act? But what, or who is responsible for what happened that night? Find out what dark secrets the woods, and the family, hold. Remember, The Dark Game has started, and once the sun goes down, it can't be stopped. When the sun goes down, The Dark Game, becomes very, very real.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    This was my first read by this author I am a Stephen King/ Dean

    This was my first read by this author I am a Stephen King/ Dean Kootz fan and I loved this book!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    Very Good

    First off, this is not a "horror" novel. You won't get constant chills but the writer does tell a good story. I had a hard time putting it down. The writing flowed well. Books are so subjective - it's hard to judge a book by the review, so you'll have to read it to judge. I enjoyed it. But I read for pleasure.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2004

    A GOOD HORROR BOOK

    The 2nd Douglas Clegg I have read, and it was great! Certainly entertaining and scary. A must read for horror fans!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2004

    A must for horror fans!

    Nemo Raglan returns to his New England home town to solve the mystery of his father's death, a death that is linked to a game from his childhood. Atmospheric and terrifying! If you love horror, you have got to add this one to your collection.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2003

    Great!

    This was the first Douglas Clegg novel I've read. And after reading it, I can say it will be the first of many! The suspense and characterization are simply superb. And Clegg has such a smooth flow to his writing, that it's impossible not to be pulled right in! A definate must-read for any horror fan!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2003

    A great gothic novel

    I enjoyed this book. I love a good gothic/mystery novel and Clegg does not disappoint!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    Quite possibly the best Clegg ever!

    Dark, engaging, frightening, perfect! Rarely has a book captured me so completely from beginning to end. MORE CLEGG PLEASE!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2003

    Clegg is the best Horror writer there is!

    King and Koontz cant touch this guy, he is simply amazing, and his latest, The Hour Before Dark is his best to date. You will not find a better Horror Novel this year, or maybe in the past five years

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2003

    Climbing to the top of the Horror genre

    Douglas Clegg is giving horror writers a run for their money. Grab anything you can find written by this wonderful writer. He is able to catch your attention and hold on all the way through.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2003

    Another Hit for Clegg

    Nemo Raglan is brought back to Hawthorn, the house on a small New England island, by the murder of his father. It was here that Nemo, his brother Bruno, and his sister Brooke played the Dark Game, a game that still haunts the three of them. This is the story of dark and dangerous secrets hiding behind the face of family. The characters are written very well, and at times you can almost believe you are there with them. The mystery behind the whole book is eerie, and builds to a tremendous climax. Doug Clegg has quickly become one of my favorite horror authors, right up there with Stephen King and Dean Koontz. If you haven't tried him yet I highly recommend that you do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2003

    Awesome and compelling...

    Douglas Clegg is a great writer of our time. This book is a wonderful story that is frightening and yet has a calm beauty about it. Clegg sends the reader on a journey, in this case to a little New England island with harsh winters and horror... I fell in love with the characters and the scenery. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2003

    Dark Games and Terror

    The brutal murder of his father brings Nemo Raglan back to Hawthorn, the house on the small New England island he has fled many years before, for reasons he only partially understands. He is reunited with his younger brother, Bruno, and his beautiful sister, Brooke, whose fragile emotional state seems headed for a mental breakdown. The three siblings are bound by the childhood traumas of their mother¿s desertion, their father¿s punishment in the ancient stone smokehouse where he was murdered and the Dark Game, the secret game they had played in childhood, whose hypnotic embrace they have never escaped. In THE HOUR BEFORE DARK, Douglas Clegg peels back the layers of a family¿s dark past to reveal a hideous secret. Within the walls of Hawthorn lie the clues to a mystery that has haunted the two brothers and their sister from childhood and to the supernatural evil that is slowly taking over their lives. Douglas Clegg won both the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award for his short story collection THE NIGHTMARE CHRONICLES. Now In his finest literary effort to date, Clegg establishes himself firmly as one of the leading authors in the horror genre. He pulls the reader in immediately and builds suspense until it¿s hard to breathe. Great characterization that puts the reader inside the skins of the leading characters, pacing that gradually builds to a shocking climax, intriguing setting and a haunting mystery combine to make this one of the best novels I¿ve read in a long time. I had the privilege of writing the first review of this book for a top horror magazine, and I am happy to report that it is now a strong contender for a 2002 Bram Stoker Award. If you love horror, hold onto your chair; THE HOUR BEFORE DARK is a powerhouse of a read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2003

    Great book!

    This is a great book...Clegg has quickly become one of my favorite writers. I highly recommend picking up a copy of THE HOUR BEFORE DARK.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    A great, page-turning horror read!

    Doug Clegg has a winner here in The Hour Before Dark. It is not only well-written, but the content is fresh as well as scary. Oh, to be able to write like that! Next to Stephen King, (sorry, Doug), Clegg is my very favorite author. I've read other novels by him, but this is by far his best. Can't wait for the next one!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2014

    Good read.

    This was a good quick read. Great creepy factor. The thrilling aspectmoves slowly, building the terror oh so slowly. I had trouble putting the book down.

    It does get just a little graphic at times, so not for the young reader.

    Thanx Mr. Clegg for a good read. Will look for more from you.

    -- SPeeD

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    sdd Do not recomend

    Drug out and boring. Figured it out half way through. The endind was the only scarry part and still did not carry the punch i was hoping for. A waste of my time. Sorry but i think the authors friends rated this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2014

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