Al Sarrantonio’s work had been favorably compared to that of Ray Bradbury. I suspect part (but not all) of the reason is that like Bradbury, much of Sarrantonio’s work deals with October in general and Halloween in particular.
And a great deal of that work is set in the fictional town of Orangefield, self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. Hallow’s Eve is the second volume of a trilogy. The first volume, Orangefield, was published as limited edition by a small press, and as far as I know, never had a mass market edition.
You don’t need to have read that volume to enjoy this one, however. I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the story, although I knew enough about the events in that novel and previous short stories to recognize some of the references.
Frankly, there wasn’t that much to keep track of. The plot is pretty simple, and some of the subplots obviously carry over from what came before. Corrie Phaeder has returned home to Orangefield after a dozen years away. As a boy, his dreams invaded his waking world, and things would change without warning. When he left, his mother had recently been murdered, and he had been the prime suspect, at least in the eyes of police detective Grant. Before everything is over, Grant, along with a neighbor girl, will become Phaeder’s ally in a battle against Samhain, the Lord of Death.
This isn’t the best horror novel I’ve ever read. The events that brought Phaeder back to Orangefield are lightly sketched, so that his homecoming feels somewhat contrived. I didn’t find much about it that was scary, although the scene towards the end where the pumpkin men attack Grant in a deserted farmhouse while he’s trying to protect Phaeder and the girl was great.
What does work is the atmosphere. Sarrantonio does an excellent job of setting the mood, and Orangefield sounds like a nice place to live if it weren’t for the Lord of Death constantly stirring things up. The book was by turns creepy, pastoral, and mildly suspenseful, but never really scary.
This is the only novel of Sarrantonio’s I’ve read, and based on this reading, I would say his strength lies more at short lengths than with the novel. There’s a final volume in this series, Halloweenland, in which a carnival arrives in Orangefield. Frankly, that trope appeals more to me than the walking scarecrow and the pumpkin men from Hallow’s Eve, although I do enjoy a good ambulatory scarecrow. I might read it before Halloween, but given the way the last few weeks have gone, I’ll probably save it for next year.
Hallow’s Eve isn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be. Still, it was a pleasant way to pass a few hours and is quite appropriate to the season.