In Laemmle’s (co-author: Asylum of Insanity, 2016, etc.) horror tale, an evil, sentient ventriloquist doll terrorizes citizens in a secluded mountain town.
Hank Cooper is an environmental scientist in Atomic City, New Mexico, but has ambitions to be a celebrity ventriloquist. Ideally, he thinks, his entire family would become famous for their ventriloquism skills. His wife, Nancy, and their twin 14-year-old children, Jake and Jessie, dismiss his plans, which Hank, an alcoholic, proclaims while drunk. But one day, he stops by a local store called the Hobby Dungeon to buy a ventriloquist doll. As it happens, Woody the Wooden Dummy mysteriously arrived at the shop’s door that very morning. Hank takes Woody home, where it suddenly starts talking to him—all on its own. Woody is crass and insulting—and he soon forms a telepathic link with Hank that allows him to control the man’s body. Woody, as a puppeteer, causes trouble around town, but some people, including Nancy, believe that a drunken Hank has simply gone wild. Then the dummy targets Jake, as well. The Coopers eventually learn Woody’s origin and realize that the doll is possessed by something diabolical and frighteningly methodical. They also suspect that Woody is cooking up an even more sinister scheme. Although Woody is indeed chilling at times, Laemmle’s novel is more of a black comedy than a serious horror tale. The Coopers’ conversations are full of engaging quips and references to pop culture, and Woody’s initial “mind-meld” with Hank is macabre and droll, by turns. The jokes are abundant and generally funny, as when Woody assures Hank that he’s not a problem drinker: “Alcoholics are people who need a drink, and clearly you’ve had plenty.” The evil dummy’s backstory is thorough and coherent, but the explanation is unnecessarily long and somewhat disrupts the pace. Fortunately, the final act regains momentum as Hank and family aim to thwart Woody’s wicked plans. (Although this novel reads as a stand-alone, it launches a prospective series of horror stories set in Atomic City.)
A tale with an unforgettable villain that’s more amusing than scary.