Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Douglas Clegg
Published by Leisure Books
For the past few years, noted horror author Douglas Clegg has taken his readers back again and again to a house in upstate New York known as Harrow. Built in the 1800’s, the house has constantly been a source of misery and death for any unlucky enough to reside behind its walls. The town nearby, Watch Point, have heard all the stories and the house has passed into a sort of legend in it’s own time because of the bad luck that seems to hover around it.
After the last incident, in which psychic investigators held up inside the structure to try and find the source of the trouble, and perhaps understand a bit more about how it all works, but end up meeting many bad ends, the house has been abandoned. Left to stand on it’s own, the only real danger it’s presented was to any local kids stupid enough to use it as a party headquarters, since the house is an old, dilapidated structure. Sure enough, those kids decide to spend their 13th night (the 13th day after summer vacation begins) in Harrow, just a few days after a young boys’ body was found mutilated in the small graveyard near the house.
The party ends and they all go home, with a few scares under their belts but nothing they think is permanent, but one of the girls goes back to her relatively normal life plagued by horrible dreams of her classmates mutilating, torturing, and devouring one another, along with images of being inside the house and being followed by the murdered boy, now with knife points in his gums where his teeth were. She dreams of evil, but doesn’t know that what she’s seeing are visions of what is to come.
The house’s new Nightwatchman has decided to re-open Harrow, but in order for the house to live, it needs people. His deeds allow the evil at the heart of the house to leak out into the small town of Watch Point, turning all the residents worst dreams, and deepest desires, into terrifying reality over the course of one day in October. If you sleep, you become one of them. If you stay awake, Harrow either makes you sleep or it attempts to kill you. In the end, only a handful of people are able to figure out enough of what’s going on to try and stop it before it’s unstoppable.
I’ve read one of the stories in this series before, but it was a short one, so I was familiar with the basic idea but not the history. I guess “series” is not the right term, because they’re all stand-alone books in their own right. I’m sure it would help with some of the references made to past events if you had read them, but for me said references, coupled with the overall excellence of Clegg’s writing, just made me want to read more about it.
If you’re not familiar with Clegg’s work, imagine the storytelling skills of Richard Laymon with the twisted dreamscape that someone like Clive Barker or Tim Lebbon have the ability to create and you’d be close to the level of his talent. He introduces you to characters throughout the town seemingly at a random, throwing you back and forth between them long enough to see how they’re dealing with the hell that’s entering their small town. It’s all twisted, very bizarre, very violent, and very graphic, but Clegg’s narrative never flinches. Indeed, his description of some of the more horrific events have an almost clinical slant to them, daring the reader to sit back and take it instead of being repulsed by it. By halfway through the book, the site of a skinned man hanging from a marquee or children chasing down and beating the elderly to death is almost commonplace, and truly only the beginning of the horrors at hand.
There are some central characters, of course, but the ones that live or die have nothing to do with how much page time they’re given. All too often in other stories you’ll see a thick, rich back-story painted for one character while the rest are only given general outlines, and you know that’s the one that will live. Not so with Clegg. All the characters are painted with a thin gauge brush, with emphasize on enough details to make them real enough for you to understand and, when the situation is right, sympathize with them. But just because you’re attached to someone in Clegg’s world doesn’t mean he won’t happily murder them, or at the very least horrifically transform them, right in front of your eyes. And you get the feeling he’s almost laughing about it while he’s doing it…
There are no easy answers coming from Clegg about any of the events that go on, but when certain truths are revealed they’re done in a believable and realistic way, instead of slapping the reader in the face with information from random sources. Harrow is, plain and simple, and evil place, and even those that serve it don’t fully understand it’s motives or it’s intentions so easy answers are, for the most part, impossible to deliver.
The issue I have the most with The Abandoned, aside from the title (The Nightwatchman would’ve made a lot more sense) is that I have no real issues with it. I know that might be because I just finished it and dug every page, and haven’t had a lot of time to digest, but most of the time my first reaction is the one I stick with. The Abandoned is a great novel for horror fans looking for a haunted house story of a different variety, and if the rest of the Harrow stories (Nightmare House, The Infinite, Mischief) are this good, and I get the feeling they are, you might to consider tracking those down, too. I know I will.
4 out of 5
Discuss The Abandoned in our forums!