Hart provided a setting and characters that I love in a horror story: supernatural goings-on and creepy kids. The first person narration of fourteen year old Lane Murphy (actually Lane retelling the tale looking back seventy years) captures the essence of depression-era rural Minnesota quite well. Lane’s young adolescent viewpoint is realistic for the most part (there are only a few times that the mental activity is too sophisticated for a boy this age). He sees wonder in the woods near his house, the animals on the farms, and most importantly the pretty girl, Sara May, to whom he is attracted. Lane hangs around his best friend, Jones, and does typical boy stuff when he isn’t dreaming about Sara may. A sense of sadness permeates his life, however. His younger brother died a few years ago from a fever, and while the family has rebounded, the loss is still very real.
Terror creeps into Lane’s life – and the life of his friends and family – possibly related to a decades old evil presence. Folklore of a past possession is whispered about in town and a pattern of events suggests the presence is coming back. The first, and in many ways most, chilling event is the birth of a two headed kid (baby goat, that is) that is observed by Lane. His father is the county’s vet, and he brings Lane with him during a ferocious storm in the middle of the night to aid in the birth. The description, setting, and actual birth are positively unsettling. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing by the time I reached the end of the passage. Additional terrifying passages suggesting haunting, evil predators, and possession kept me on edge. Lane experiences and witnesses all of these, and his friend Sara May is the target of many of the attacks.
This story deftly combines coming of age and supernatural terror. I was hooked from the beginning. There was only one passage towards the end that took place in a general store involving a huge confrontation that rang false to me. Otherwise, the story was riveting. And, the exorcism section is a blast (along with a nifty twist that I saw coming, but was still deftly handled). I strongly recommend this story, and I plan to read more of Joe Hart’s work.