Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Let me say this straight out: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge is the perfect Halloween story. Well-written, engaging, full of rich characters, and with a villain that’s about as sympathetic as you can get all contribute to a true page-turner. Dark Harvest won the Bram Stoker Award and was named one of the 100 Best Novels of 2006 by Publishers Weekly. It comes in at about 200 pages with a style that’s so relaxed it didn’t take me longer than a few hours to finish reading.

Part folklore, part small town horror tale, Dark Harvest tells the story of a once a year ritual when, on each Halloween night, a pumpkin-headed creature called the October Boy rises from the cornfield armed with a butcher knife to make his way into town to massacre any he comes across. He isn’t the only one on a rampage, though, because every boy in town from age sixteen to eighteen is out too, armed with knives, axes, chains, and anything else that might carve or crush the October Boy’s pumpkin skull. The boys of the town are on a hunt of their own, the prize to the one who takes down the October Boy a one-way ticket out of town and away from the bleak future otherwise waiting for them if they stay.

What starts as a fairly straightforward monster hunt turns into something else entirely as we soon learn that the October Boy is a monster with goals of his own, goals that don’t necessarily start or end with slaughtering the town’s people. We are also introduced to Pete McCormick, on his first Run and eager to kill the October Boy like everyone else until he meets Kelly Haines, who left the town once but came back under dubious circumstances. She knows things, things she shares with Pete, so that soon he isn’t so much interested in hunting the October Boy as much as he is just leaving his drunken father and the hopeless town they call home behind for good. But leaving town isn’t any easier than killing the October Boy, especially when you’ve got a psychopathic  town sheriff making sure no one ever leaves.

Partridge’s writing style really shines and is just perfect for this kind of a story. He isn’t shy about breaking the fourth wall with his narrative, either, pulling the reader right in as if he or she is just another member of the town. The array of characters is another high point for Dark Harvest. There is a certain hopelessness about each. The sheriff, who has committed himself entirely to the annual ritual and is most certainly damned because of it. Pete, and every other teenage boy for that matter, who sees their only salvation in hunting and brutally killing the October Boy. Even the October Boy himself, who slowly reconciles his own existence and is no more comforted for having known it.

Dark Harvest deserves the five rocket rating I’m giving it. It’s that good. This is a book I could see myself reading every Halloween.

Johnny Halloween by Norman Partridge

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Johnny Halloween by Norman Partridge is a collection of Halloween-themed horror short stories. All but one of the stories appeared previously in other publications. Partridge is perhaps best known for Dark Harvest, which won the Bram Stoker Award in 2006. This collection contains references to that novel in multiple stories, and concludes with a story set in the same town as Dark Harvest aptly called “The Jack o’Lantern: A Dark Harvest Tale.”

In fact, a word of caution: DO NOT READ “The Jack o’Lantern: A Dark Harvest Tale” until you’ve read Dark Harvest. That story is so closely related to Dark Harvest that it will ruin it for you if you read the story in this collection first. I did, and, yes, it did indeed ruin the ending of Dark Harvest for me.

Johnny Halloween is a fairly quick read. It took perhaps two hours to consume its 125 pages. While every story is not specifically Halloween related, at minimum they each contain a spooky overture inline with the spirit of the holiday. Supernatural elements are present in only some of the stories, though the setup for something otherworldly is there in almost every story, so it isn’t until the end that you find out just what you’re dealing with. When a story does delve into the supernatural, it does it effectively, with the right amount of spookiness and unexplained mystery. The author’s style, which is easy and flows well, reminded me a lot of Stephen King. There’s a fair amount of swearing, but it’s used effectively.

The best story in this collection was “The Jack o’Lantern.” It contains the heaviest dose of supernatural elements and was a real page turner. The worst? Calling anything in this collection “worst” doesn’t feel right because I found all of the stories well-written and enjoyable in their own way. But if I were to call it the “least ranked” instead, I’d say the story “The Man Who Killed Halloween” rated the lowest. The author makes a point of discussing in the introduction how he grew up in the 1960’s in the Bay Area where the Zodiac killer struck multiple times and so this story is obviously his expression of that time period in his life, but it fell somewhat flat for me. I don’t doubt having the fear of a serial killer hanging over your every waking moment is something tangible and real, but I didn’t feel those elements were conveyed well in the story itself.

All told, Johnny Halloween is a good collection and a worthy read for this Halloween or any other. I give it three rockets.