In this horror debut, a teen outsider’s obsession with death draws him into the morbid undercurrents of a Maine town.
It’s 1985, and 17-year-old Chris Chandler and his family have just moved to Bemishstock, Maine. Chris’ father works for Allied Paper Products of Wisconsin as the man who shuts down plants and curtails the livelihoods of entire towns. This makes Chris a pariah every day in school; he visits the Willard family graveyard for solitude. One morning, after forgetting to complete a social studies project, Chris cobbles together a presentation about 19th-century grave robbers. Mallory Dahlman, the most gorgeous and popular girl in school, coincidentally delivers a project about the funeral rites of the Torajan people of Indonesia. Both reports succeed, and Mallory begins flirting with Chris wildly—enraging her jock boyfriend, Floyd Balzer. Meanwhile, teen farmhand Gillian Willard has noticed Chris repeatedly visit her family’s graveyard. She sympathizes with the loner and befriends him. Elsewhere in Bemishstock, Dr. Meath (chiropractor, goat farmer, and funeral parlor employee) has been experimenting on stolen corpses. Chris witnesses Meath’s thievery, yet he’s a bit distracted by his aggressive new girlfriend, Mallory, and her insistence that the misery of others is theirs to play with. In this gloriously macabre novel—the first installment of a series—Blake channels Stephen King and 1980s cult films like Re-Animator. He sets the miserable scene in stating “ash was the color of Bemishstock; all gray stone and unpainted, weathered wood.” Readers learn about Victorian-era fears of being buried alive when Chris says, “You could buy coffins with bells in them.” Further history delves into the existence of the Mortsafemen, who would protect the dead from grave robbers. Blake’s characters take shape briskly and enjoyably, as when the salacious Mallory tells her mother, “I think we’ve had enough dinner. I’m going to take him to my room...for dessert.” Chris’ friendship with widow Felix Holcomb is especially touching because she teaches him to treasure his teen years (“Meaning is something you only discover in a rear-view mirror”).
Fans should claw at Blake’s windows for more graveyard tales after this delightful series opener.