Dead Trees: Dead White by Alan Ryan

Do you ever think back to times you spent with books? Reliving pieces of your life and the books that defined your existence? Yeah, so do I.

Lately I was thinking of a night back in the winter of 1986/1987. It was a cold year,  and I was living in less than ideal accommodations. I was still pretty poor at the time. I had enough for the monthly bills, and I ate reasonably well. Books were a luxury. Well, new books anyway. I mostly did my reading purchases through the local used bookstores. Remember when they were everywhere?

I lived in what David Byrne referred to as a shotgun shack. Rattly windows, thin walls, a barely adequate gas heater. There were places you could see through seams to outside. Yeah, it was cold.

There’s something about a cold, windy night that suits horror fiction. Sure, I’ve read books, great ones, that deal with the supernatural in warm climates, but a literary chill to the spine is more conducive to the winter. Imagine how genre classics like Ghost Story and The Shining would be if they had taken place in the sunny tropics. I do not believe they would be as  effective. Not by a long shot.

On the night in question I was in a recliner in the jail cell-like living room. Utterly riveted to a frostbitten novel by one of the field’s best-kept secrets: Alan Ryan. In some later books he was credited as Alan Peter Ryan.

The novel that gripped me is called Dead White. It’s a book that is currently out of print, and it’s one that screams bloody murder to be resuscitated.

Originally published as a paperback original in 1983, Dead White is set in a small town, as so many of the horror stories of the time were. Some decry the use of small towns in horror fiction, but I always liked it and I always will. While the city certainly has grimy atmosphere for plenty of scares, I love the intimacy of a small town. The  secrets which lie beneath the surface. The buried souls which all-too-often have troubled rest. Colorful, colloquial characters, historic settings, and the comfortable stereotypical clichés. I also love it when stories have video stores and small bookstores in their settings.

A vicious winter storm has beset the snug little town of Deacons Kill. The place is isolated, blacked-out, and under siege. The town members fortify themselves against the elements, and pray for the best. But Deacons Kill has a lot more to worry about than frostbite and subfreezing temperatures.

Somehow, impossibly, a train has rolled into the outskirts of town on long-abandoned tracks. Inside the train are terrible things. Things that seek out retribution. The signs advertise a circus, and we all know what terrifying creatures lurk inside the tents of any circus, don’t we?

Yes, there are clowns. Evil, gleefully murderous clowns.

There are characters aplenty in Dead White, but for me there are really three in the book. We have the Town Collective. There is the deadly storm. And definitely not least, a ghostly circus with those delightfully awful clowns.

Clowns have become a staple in recent years, largely thanks to the re-emergence of the popularity Stephen King’s It. Certainly there were evil clowns before Dead White, by Alan Ryan was well ahead of the grease-painted curve with this novel.

Dead White might not be for everyone. If Bizarro, transgressive horror, or wall-to-wall gross-out scenes and violence are your things, you may wish to pass. But if you miss Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station, if Rick Hautala is a favorite, if you feel nostalgia for the innocence and homey feelings of ’80s small town horror, I’m pretty sure you will have a great time with Dead White.

But this book is truly a dead tree. The paperback is long out of print. No hardcover, ever. I don’t even think there has ever been an ebook. The time is ripe for a reprint of Dead White. Valancourt would be a good choice, but I think a better home would be right here at Cemetery Dance. CD has had success publishing Alan Ryan in nice hardcovers, and a publication timed with the release of It Part 2 would be perfect. Add in the enthusiastic blurb from Stephen King and I predict a quick sell out before publication date.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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