By Norman Partridge (Tor; 2006/07)

Norman Partridge is a California-based writer who made a huge splash with his debut novel SLIPPIN’ INTO DARKNESS back in 1996.  In the ensuing years he’s only returned to the genre sporadically, but Partridge’s excursions into horror are always worth waiting for.  Case in point: DARK HARVEST, an absolutely stunning short novel that serves up a veritable banquet of up-to-date splatter and old fashioned chills.

Some of you might have gotten a hold of this must-have book back in 2006, when it was first published to vast acclaim as a limited edition hardcover by Cemetery Dance.  Now it’s available in a trade paperback printing courtesy of Tor, in which guise I’m guessing it will finally reach the large readership it so ardently deserves.

Reading like a testosterone-fueled rethink of Shirley Jackson’s classic tale “The Lottery”, DARK HARVEST is set over the course of Halloween night, 1963, in a small Midwestern town.  The teenage boys of the community are following a yearly ritual of hunting a supernatural entity called the October Boy, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow-like figure whose insides are stuffed with candy.  Each year the October Boy always heads for the town church, and if he reaches it by dawn he’s safe; it’s the job of the town boys to make sure the OB doesn’t make it.

The town’s elders ensure that the boys enact the “Run” each Halloween by not allowing them to eat for five days and then turning them loose, armed with knives and pitchforks.  This year’s Run, however, will go a little differently.  First, a girl is involved, and no females are allowed on the Run.  Second, there’s Pete, a young man all fired up to take down the October Boy, who stumbles onto some dark secrets that shine a whole new light on the Run, the October Boy and the town itself.

The novel is quite simply a small classic, related from a completely absorbing, smart aleckey first person perspective (we don’t actually find out who the narrator is until halfway into the book) that’s highly stylish and individual without ever reducing the events of the narrative in any way.  It’s a tough and violent account that moves fast and includes a fair amount of breakneck action set pieces, but it has a touching, introspective dimension that deepens as the story advances.

The author also deserves kudos for turning out such a focused and compact piece of work.  At 169 pages this book manages to relate a tale as rich and satisfying as nearly any 500-page epic.  A one-sitting read for sure!