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Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season / Norman Partridge

Cemetery Dance / October 2010
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

Norman Partridge became the King of Halloween with the 2006 release of his novel Dark Harvest, and he solidifies his hold on the crown in 2010 with Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season, a short All Hallows-themed collection published by Cemetery Dance.

These six stories (plus one essay) span the full length of Partridge’s career thus far, giving readers a glimpse into his growth as a wordsmith while laying bare the way certain touchstones continue to crop up in his work. There are masks, and monsters of both the human and supernatural kind, and people who are trying to rip themselves away from circumstances that hold them in place with an iron grip.

Also evident in the mix is Partridge’s pure love of writing and the things he writes about. This is the work of a guy who gets to play in his favorite sandbox every day, and the joy of storytelling, monsters and mayhem fairly sings off the page.

In “Johnny Halloween” a man’s violent past catches up to him, and it’s wearing a jack-o-lantern mask covering the death’s-head visage underneath. This sudden reappearance forces long-held secrets to the surface, and sets the inevitable consequences of those secrets in violent motion.

In “The Man Who Killed Halloween,” Partridge writes about growing up in Vallejo, California, and how, in 1969, the whole town fell under the shadow of the real-life boogeyman who called himself The Zodiac. It’s a poignant tale of how the serial killer’s spree fundamentally changed not only the lives of those closest to the victims, but everyone living in the small town. Partridge compares the Halloween before The Zodiac’s appearance with the Halloween after, and shows how the innocence and carefree attitude personified on that one night per year had evaporated.

“Three Doors” is a twisted take on “The Monkey’s Paw” featuring a disturbed war veteran and a rubber hand. When the vet paints the hand black it charges him with a strange power – but like most power it’s limited, and need to be used wisely. Unfortunately, the vet is a wounded man in more ways than one, and his decisions are dictated by a lonely, broken heart.

The collection is capped off with “The Jack O’ Lantern: A Dark Harvest Tale,” a prequel to Partridge’s outstanding novel that plucks us right back down in a cold cornfield with the malevolent October Boy as our guide. It’s Halloween night, the October Boy is on the run and the boys of the town are on the hunt. But it seems there’s a new predator on the loose – one that’s already left a bloody trophy at the October Boy’s feet.

This new tale works fine as a standalone introduction to the Dark Harvest world for readers who haven’t experienced Partridge’s previous October Boy tale, but those who’ve already been to this small town will recognize a few characters here, and will immediately understand the ripples of events that take place on this one terrifying night. Like its full-length predecessor, “Jack O’ Lantern” is a brutal tale about people driven by desperation to escape the dead-end life that’s been forced on them. It’s crisply written with a lightening-fast pace and a great atmosphere.

Partridge’s brand of hard-boiled horror is the perfect complement to the Halloween season, just as this collection is the perfect companion piece to Dark Harvest. For maximum enjoyment, it’s recommended that readers partake of these dark tales at the side of a roaring fire, a cup of hot cider in hand and one eye locked on the moonlit shadows coming through the window. There are dark things out there, you see, and Partridge’s writing calls them up and brings them to wretched, cackling life.

Purchase Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season by Norman Partridge.

Posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 08:27AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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