For anyone that’s ever lived in a small town where everyone knows each other and seems to hold secrets about their next-door neighbors, idyllic town horror is a satisfying trope. Truth is always stranger than fiction and if you live in one small town long enough, you’re bound to uncover some of the strange history and unusual happenings. Sometimes what appears to be perfectly quaint is really just good at hiding its seamy underbelly.
It’s not difficult to suspend disbelief in order to buy into the old adage, “Nothing is as it appears to be.” Or another fitting favorite, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
Sam Hardy is a sheriff’s deputy that becomes the only suspect in the brutal murder of a young girl in his hometown. Instead of internal affairs getting involved, he is ultimately asked to leave town and go to the community of Angels and Hope, a company town established to support a theme park, Captain Clive’s Dreamworld.
Dreamworld itself seems loosely based on what we know as “The Happiest Place on Earth” except there is something really wrong with Angels and Hope in a Twilight Zone(ish) way. After meeting Captain Clive and chatting up the locals, Sam Hardy knows there is something insidiously sinister about his new residence and sets himself on a mission to uncover it.
Jon Bassoff injects this quirky bizzaro tale with social commentary in the style of a crime-noir drama mashed with transgressive horror and it really works. I’m a huge fan of Bassoff’s imagination and flair for the unexpected.
The pacing is perfect. Bassoff skillfully guides the reader through a series of events that ultimately lead the protagonist on a pretty creepy journey. After reading The Lantern Man, it’s clear to me that Bassoff has honed his craft as a storyteller that can perfectly mash up crime-noir thriller overtures with straight-up horror sprinkled with whatever sub-genres he sees fitting for the tale; bizzaro, transgressive, psychological — you name the flavor and, chances are, Bassoff has toyed with it.
I particularly enjoy the fact that Bassoff almost always employs unlikable, flawed people to vehicle his character-driven horror. I never know what to expect and I’m always surprised by something — a particularly disturbing scene or a cruel twist of fate are true markers of his brand of horror. I highly recommend this book to fans who like a bit of everything and are looking for something unusual and original.