…the static seemed to claw at the music, tear it up. Another voice broke in, like the ghost of one radio station overlapping with Kiss 108. But this wasn’t the voice of Sunny Joe White. The voice sounded like someone amused, caught in the middle of telling a joke, but then it changed, as if the man had something caught in his throat. The sound was awful, almost hateful, like an animal . . . and then it was just static again. Barb twisted the dial, trying to tune back in to Kiss, but all that came out was static and squealing, so she jabbed the power knob and the inside of the car went silent.
Nothing in these woods could be more dreadful, more terrifying, than the selfish cruelty of ordinary people.
Coventry, MA may be an appealing looking place, and there are some good things happening there, involving some good people, but below the mask of 1984 suburban bliss there lie some darker realities. And over the course of a single Halloween night there will be a cornucopia of revelation. (A Masque of the Orange Death?) As in Poe’s story, there is no refuge from what is coming, and there will be a hefty body count.
Christopher Golden – image from eggplante.com
Tony Barbosa is a decent guy. Not hugely successful in the world. Just found a job after a long spell out of work. About to sell the family house, the damage from that prolonged unemployment. He puts on a Halloween tradition on his property every year, The Haunted Woods, with all the things one might expect. Sadly, this will be his last time. Daughter, Chloe, 17, loves helping out. His wife, Alice, puts up with it, and his son, Rick, 13, is simply uninterested. He will hang with his friend, Billie, a rare black girl in this area. Tony and Alice are just emerging from a rough patch. The future of their marriage is shaky. On this Halloween night, there will be a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.
Attorney Donnie Sweeney is a drunken, philandering pathetic excuse of a husband, reliably unreliable, a chronic liar. His wife, Barb, is reaching her limit with him. (Everyone loved Donnie Sweeney, but nobody more than Donnie himself, and for the first time, Charlie wondered if that wasn’t his dad’s defining characteristic. He loved his wife and his kids right up to the moment it threatened his ability to have a good time.) Their kids are a surprisingly decent lot, 18yo Julia, 13yo Brian, and Charlie, 11. Really, dude, you cannot simply put your scattered crap back in the garage and shut the garage door, on a weekend, but take off to do whatever, sticking your kids with the task?
In addition to these two families we follow Vanessa Montez, 17, and her bff, Steve Koenig, 16 Both are crushing on the same girl.
Trick-or-treaters are making the rounds, but there are some unfamiliar faces among the crowd tonight. A young-looking (nine, maybe) girl in a rough, old-time Raggedy Ann outfit. A teenaged scarecrow, his costume also seeming to be from another era, and a very pale boy named Leonard. Definitely not a trick-or-treater is the man they say they are fleeing, Mr. Cunning. They beg the local kids to stay with them, to protect them, until midnight, when the coast should be clear. Um, ok, sure, whatever. It is clear, though, that there is something strange in the neighborhood. A giant blackthorn tree appears, and a new (popup?) clearing in the woods. There is hunting going on.
There are two levels to this one, the presenting horror, which is pretty bloody horrifying, and the underlying horrors, also pretty bloody horrifying, but in a different way. In a 2014 interview with Nightmare Magazine, Golden said, I’m not just fascinated with monsters, but with monstrosity, both human and—in the way it reflects back the human—supernatural. There is a considerable volume of monstrosity in Coventry, hidden, or at least not publicly professed by the residents. A relatively-recently-arrived couple are suspected of dark doings. Are those suspicions accurate or just speculative hyperbole? Donnie’s low character is not exactly a state secret, but his charming mask will not hide him tonight. Bigotries will be exposed. But there is mask-dropping that will be benign, as some folks allow their true selves be seen, to positive effect.
The strength of the novel for me was its portrayal of middle-class duress. Tony Barbosa’s situation wandered queasily close to home. Everybody seems on the cusp of change. Troubled marriages abound. The adult women are given prime roles, their life goals, and marital experiences portrayed evenly with their mates’. Ditto the interactions among the teens and kids, wrestling with changes in their lives, moving from kid to adolescent, from adolescent to something more, discovering and molding who they are or want to be. The strength of Golden’s kid portrayals reminded me very much of Stephen King. There is an element of nostalgia for the 1980s here, but a much larger perspective on a place and time that is portrayed as far from appealing.
There were some aspects that I thought did not work quite so well. While it was possible to follow the many characters tracked here, there seemed rather a lot of them for a book of modest length. Chapters are short and offer alternating viewpoints. There are sixty two chapters in a book of three-hundred-thirty-six pages, so if you are inclined, you can read this one in small bits. Four characters get the most ink. Barb Sweeney gets ten chapters, Tony Barbosa and Vanessa get nine each, and Rick Barbosa gets eight. One character gets four chapters, two get three chapters, one gets two and five other characters get one chapter apiece. The character voices are distinct and Golden goes into sufficient depth with the majors to gain our interest.
Also, I found the layering of the supernatural evil excessive. And the back-and-forth struggle of one character to gain control inside a terrible space just seemed, even within the confines of a fantasy, a bit much. The gruesomeness worked well, offering shocking turns and some surprise demises.
There is persistent creepiness, ramping up from shadows, noises, and fleeting images to more direct darkness and considerable bloodshed.
By the end of the night, many truths will be revealed, facades of all sorts will be ripped off or tossed aside, many lives will have ended and many others will have been permanently changed. The line between a good scare and good, people-centered storytelling has never been thinner. All Hallows is a scary good read.
Something moved in the forest. A deeper shadow, back in among the trees. Vanessa narrowed her eyes, trying to focus, but someone said something funny and everyone laughed and she pretended to have heard the joke and laughed along with them, and the moment passed.
Still, something in the air had changed. The night seemed darker, as if the moonlight sifting through the branches had dimmed. The shadows had turned weird, the clearing a bit smaller, closer. This time when her skin prickled, it wasn’t from the flush that Julia made her feel, but from the way the night seemed to hold its breath.
Review posted – 02/10/23
Publication date – 01/24/23
I received a digital ARE of All Hallows from St. Martin’s Press in return for a fair review, and the offering of a few Druid prayers. Thanks, folks, and thanks to NetGalley for facilitating.
This review has been cross-posted on GoodReads
A three-and-a-half, really, but I rounded up.
Links to the author’s personal, FB, Instagram, and Twitter pages
Golden is a monster of an author who got started, and found success, very early. He has a gazillion publications to his credit and an army-size host of teleplay credits from his years writing for Buffy with Joss Whedon, and plenty more. And then there are the comics. You may have heard of Hell Boy, among those. Here is a list of what he has published, from Fiction DB. I personally think he has elves, or more likely, goblins, chained to computers in his basement helping him crank out such volume.
My review of his prior book, Road of Bones
—–Interview: Christopher Golden by Lisa Morton – January 2014
—–Atomic Geekdom – Book Review Interview / All Hallows by Christopher Golden – with Jenny Robinson-Nagy – video – 51:20
Items of Interest
—–Folk Customs – Tree Lore – Blackthorn
—–Britannica – Halloween
—–Britannica – Hallowe’en – a 1926 entry on this
—–Wiki on Samhain, the ritual from which Halloween was derived
—–Air Supply – The Ones That You Love – chapter 3
—–Michael Jackson – Thriller – chapter 6
—–Bobby Picket and the Cryptkicker Five – The Monster Mash – chapter 6