Kirkus Star


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Like many another genre novelist who hasn't been able to come up with a fresh twist, occult/horror-man Straub has instead thrown a little bit of everything into this massive mess of a book: a haunted town, family curses, demonic possession, duels with Satan, telepathy, clairvoyance, ghosts, bats, plague, murder, suicide, and plenty of dead birds. Still, through about the first half of the excessive 500+ pages here, Straub's cross-cutting techniques and appealing characterizations do manage to stir up a curious, eerie mixture. In posh little Hampstead, Ct., in May 1980, assorted creepy things are happening. There's a hushed-up accident at a research facility--and a ""thinking cloud"" of DRG-16 (a bio-warfare gas) floats out, causing several citizens to slowly, revoltingly liquefy. There's a series of savage slash-murders. There are child suicides (by drowning), outbreaks of insanity. And the focus gradually closes in on four Hampstead residents, all with long local family histories, who are especially attuned to the goings-on: architect Richard Allbee, former child TV-star, haunted by his dead co-star; clairvoyant teenager Tabby Smithfield, son of a ne'er-do-well alcoholic; psychic Patsy McCloud, a battered wife; and aged writer Graham Williams--the sometime narrator who knows what's really going on. Back in '24, you see, Graham killed a homicidal Hampstead maniac named Bates Krell who was actually a reincarnation of Satanic, pre-Revolutionary villain Gideon Winter; and now, it seems, Winter has returned yet again to cover Hampstead in evil (he's taken over the body of the town's most beloved doctor!)--so it's up to the four heroes, the last of their families, to do battle against this ""Dragon."" Veteran occult readers, then, will find a disappointingly standard plot waiting for them here, despite the enticing opening puzzles. Even worse, once the haunted-town setup is revealed, Straub doesn't move snappily to the inevitable demon-duel finale (with love-power triumphant); instead, he pads things out with over 200 pages of murk and gore--as Hampstead's woes escalate (fire, plague), as Graham reminisces, as Winter kills more (Richard's wife, Tabby's father), as the four heroes suffer through morbid hallucinations, frequent retching, visitations (bats, black dogs), and near-fatal clashes with Winter. And if considerably more readable than the pretentious Shadowland, this again fails to supply the ghoulish fun of Ghost Story--though genre devotees will certainly get their fill of gruesome special effects. . . and others, lured in by Straub's crafty first chapters, may also stay the course.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1982
Publisher: Putnam