Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: "The Children's Hour" by Douglas Clegg.

If you were a fan of Stephen King's "'Salem's Lot," you'll find a lot to like in "The Children's Hour."  Vampires! An ancient evil! Love lost! Troubled heroes who fight the demons of their past!

All this and more, as they say.

Clegg's protagonists are Joe and Hop, childhood friends who have lost touch since Joe left town after high school. He looks back at his formative years in Colony with something akin to hatred. Joe's mother is dying, though, so he packs up his wife, his children and his marital issues and heads back to his hometown. Joe's return sets the wheels in motion for the re-emergence of an ancient evil the men thought they'd seen the last of.

Why do children keep disappearing in Colony? How could a 12-year-old girl reappear at her parents' home, when she ought to be in her 30s, if alive at all? What has been living in the well hidden inside Old Man Feeley's barn all these years? What does it all have to do with Joe?

Clegg's novel jumps back and forth in time, which makes it difficult to summarize. As he works his way through the above material, he revisits Joe's and Hop's childhood, from the first time they came up against Abaddon, the demon in the well, and through subsequent encounters with it. I understand why he structured it that way — a straightforward, chronological retelling would reveal too much, too soon — but it makes the narrative occasionally difficult to follow.

Like "'Salem's Lot" — and like many King books — Clegg periodically cuts to the viewpoints of minor characters. We meet a college student dogged by his cruel past, a sheriff caught between his distant wife and his pregnant mistress, a teenager whose parents have disappeared; they all eventually fall to Abaddon. The scenes where the demon and/or his minions overtake those victims are the highlights of the book:
The child reached out his hand, its shackles pulling at the stone. As its skin met Byron's, he felt as if something within him was fighting to  be born, fighting to burst through his skin, trying to burst his bones and flesh and blood, outward in a spray of red.
He heard the sound of wet splitting, and where the child touched him, a bone broke through the surface of his flesh.
The child's mouth went eagerly to the bone and Byron, shivering and feeling cold, watched while he sucked at the bone of his forearm as if it were sugar cane.
Vampiric children! What a creepy idea. And, yes, they're the biggest similarity to "'Salem's Lot."

"The Children's Hour" is an entertaining horror story, though it suffers from the genre's periodic flaws in logic. But if this is your kind of story, you're likely ready to look past that.