HalloweenBy Ben Greer (Avon; 1978/80)

The title and publication date aside, this novel has nothing to with the John Carpenter directed HALLOWEN, nor the Curtis Richards novelization of same. Both in any event are preferable to this tedious attempt at horrific suspense, set, as the title portends, on Halloween.

The protagonist is Blake Pasque, who returns to the Southern port town where he grew up after years of residing elsewhere. Blake, we learn, was quite eager to get away from his insanely dysfunctional family, but has returned to save his mentally unstable mother Jess, traumatized by the suspicious death of her husband, from being institutionalized by her asshole brother Cross.

There’s a psychopath loose in the area, who when he’s not mutilating small animals stalks Blake and Jess. As the story advances we learn that the psycho, a Plato-quoting freak named Raphael, was previously interred in a nuthouse together with Jess. We also learn that Raphael has been hired by Cross to kill Jess–just as Cross did to her husband and evidently intends to do to Blake.

As a thriller this HALLOWEEN fails, being excessively talky with only a few short bursts of action to hold one’s attention. As related in long, clunky paragraphs, that action is largely unexciting and, in the italicized sections depicting Raphael’s mindset as he stalks the protagonists, downright clumsy. The template for this sort of thing had yet to be fully established in 1978, which may explain Ben Greer’s flat and unsuspenseful use of the psycho POV conceit.

The frustrating thing about this novel is that it contains some authentically good things. Greer has a gift for characterization, which is particularly evident in the impossibly vile Cross, as perfect an example of pure, unfiltered evil as any I’ve encountered. Yet even here there’s a problem, with Greer doing his a job a bit too well: all the characters are uniformly selfish and manipulative, to the point that I found it difficult to care about their fates, much less continue reading.