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THE MAD COOK OF PYMATUNING by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt


by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-684-83427-8
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Camp counselors run amuck in Lehmann-Haupt’s chilling second novel (following A Crooked Man, 1995), set in a rustic 1950s Pennsylvania boys’ camp.

This nicely handled thriller is narrated by 17-year-old Jerry Muller, the product of divorced parents, who returns to his beloved Camp Seneca as a junior counselor in the summer of 1952. Jerry takes with him his eager, impressionable nine-year-old half-brother, Peter, whom he must take care of in order to show his father and new stepmother how responsible he is. Unnerving changes have occurred at the camp, however, involving the arrival of Native American Buck Silverstone, aka Redclaw, who has been given free reign by the camp owners to scare the kids. (He begins by telling a campfire ghost story about a mad cook of a lodge in nearby Lake Pymatuning who wields a meat cleaver.) Buck claims the camp land is actually Seneca land, haunted by ghosts buried there, and subscribes to a hybrid religion embracing torture and mutilation. In the camp’s spirit of building character, Buck instigates several nasty scares, some of them turning violent. <\b>Jerry, who is still on crutches after breaking a leg in a skiing accident, acts as a kind of wary observer, and writes his reservations about the camp to his young German stepmother, Karla. Additional tension stems from issues related to class (Jerry is wealthy and educated, while the majority of campers are working class) and sex (Jerry’s male friend makes unwelcome advances).

The requisite blood-fest finale notwithstanding, a polished work of suspense.