A two-bit con artist focuses his aggression on a local paperboy and his friends in Lukegord’s (The Haunted Trail, 2014, etc.) thriller.
Curtis Ware, six years after serving time in juvie for a B&E in Iowa, now makes his home in Riverside, Maine. He runs a few scams, including cheating people in a carnival game and accepting donations for a disabled veterans’ taxi service that doesn’t actually do anything. But a small group of preteen hellions, including paperboy Ace Gordon, sends him in an entirely different direction. They pelt his car with snowballs and later sneak into his shack, unaware that he owns them both. Ace inadvertently leaves behind his newspaper bag, and he and his pals become Curtis’ mortal enemies in a series of increasingly dangerous encounters that span more than a decade. The author provides stellar coverage of both its villain and his young victims. The narrative, with its intermittent dialogue, often comes across as a chronicle relaying just the basic facts. However, Curtis’ actions are inherently creepy, and his behavior becomes more and more unsettling as the story progresses. For example, he shows up in costume at a Halloween party just to torment Ace, and he moves from chucking rocks at a football game and tapping on windows to chasing the kids with a buck knife. Lukegord provides readers with a modicum of sympathy for Curtis, who was raped and beaten back in juvenile detention. That said, it’s hard to side with a man who grows his fingernails long to use them as weapons, so readers are likely to root for Ace and company instead. The sparse dialogue exchanges can be stiff and sometimes recall Scooby-Doo: “I would’ve gotten away with everything had it not been for those nosy kids!” rants Curtis at one point. Some of the descriptions, too, are repetitive; the story repeatedly refers to Curtis as “disgruntled,” and his actions as “sketchy,” even in a newspaper article detailing one of his crimes. The ending, however, is fittingly disconcerting.
An unquestionably eerie baddie helps this uncomplicated but dark tale stand out.