If you’re like me, reading creepy horror novels in the weeks leading up to Halloween is a seasonal necessity – like going apple picking, carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, and crucifying scarecrows on the front lamppost.
Set in the sleepy northern California town of River’s End, Everson’s latest offering is cool fusion of urban legend, druidism, black witchcraft and mainstream horror. Still struggling to come to grips with the gruesome murder of her father, Chicagoan Jennica Murphy is faced with more bad news: because of financial cuts, she loses her job as a parochial teacher and finds out that her and her roommate, teacher Kirstin Rizzo, are facing imminent eviction from their apartment. With no other options readily available, the two newly unemployed teachers decide to take a “vacation” to the West Coast and investigate an old ancestral house that Jenn recently inherited when her father died. The house used to belong to her aunt Meredith before she passed away and taking a trip to the scenic environs of northern California seemed like a good idea…
As the two women explore the bizarre house – desiccated bats are nailed to doors, human skulls are hidden in kitchen drawers, the basement contains shelves upon shelves of gruesome canned oddities – they find a Ouija board hidden in a recess in the fireplace. Curious, they try to summon the spirit of Jenn’s father – and inadvertently waken something as evil as it is ancient….
The Pumpkin Man is back – and carving up more than just innocent kids. With the supernatural killer closing in, Jenn turns to her dead aunt’s dark library for answers…
The Pumpkin Man is a perfect Halloween read if there ever was one. I loved how Everson tied both urban legend and arcane mythology into the gourd-powered storyline. Here are a few excerpts:
• “The legend says that the Pumpkin Man comes to River’s End every Halloween and chooses a person. When he decides on his victim, he picks himself a pumpkin from the local patch and uses a knife and magic to carve that person’s soul into the gourd… He draws the face of the victim on the pumpkin with his knife, and by the time he’s through, there’s an image of the person in the gourd and a headless body left behind.”
• “…other cultures celebrated the pumpkin as a soul cage. The gourd’s wealth of seeds was seen as a powerful lure to spirits, and so a shaman would carve out the top of a pumpkin, performing a ceremony to invoke the spirits of elders. When just such a spirit had entered the pumpkin, he would close the lid to trap it there. In this way, he would be able to hold a spirit for days or weeks, until the flesh of the pumpkin at last decomposed… Variants of this ceremony involve the entrapment of serpents or the use of a human skull, the latter being placed within the pumpkin in order to give flesh and voice once more to the dead.”
Do you want to get your spook on this Halloween? Read The Pumpkin Man – I’ll guarantee you that you’ll never look at pumpkin carving the same way again…
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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