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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

THE HOUR BEFORE DARK
By Douglas Clegg
Leisure/ 384 pages/ $24
ISBN: 0-8439-5044-7

The Raglan family has lived in the rambling farmhouse they call Hawthorn on Burnley Island off the coast of Massachusetts for generations. The island, although populated with well-to-do tourists in the summer, becomes a sparsely inhabited and isolated place prone to extreme weather at the end (October 20) of the season. When the Raglan pater familias, Gordie, is savagely murdered, sons Nemo and Bruno must return to the island they both escaped as soon as they could to help their sister, Brooke, through the ordeal. There are no clues and no suspects to the unbelievably vicious killing and Brooke is obviously experiencing some serious emotional problems. The mystery, depression, and trauma unite the siblings -- but not completely enough for Nemo to share the strange occurrences he's experiencing. And none of the three can discuss their collective past, the strange "missing" period in their lives, or the mysterious childhood pastime they shared -- the Dark Game.

cover As Brooke begins to deteriorate further and Bruno starts literally deconstructing the house, Nemo rediscovers Pola Croader, the lost love of his youth. Winter and weirdness deepen, but Nemo -- the eldest, the most distant, the one who must act -- can not confront either the past or the present until Harry Withers, a childhood friend and adult reporter intent on solving the case, pushes him to do so. THE HOUR BEFORE DARK works and works well. I was compelled to keep turning the pages as fear gnawed a hollow in my stomach and raised my pulse to racing level from cover to cover. That's what horror is supposed to do and Douglas Clegg just keeps getting better and better at writing novels that elicit that response.

The peculiar thing about THE HOUR BEFORE DARK is that it does everything it is supposed to do while still possessing some definite flaws. The key mystery is easily guessed early on; there's something of an authorial cop-out about the nature of the evil involved; an unfortunate misuse of the word "banshee"; a slightly overblown climax complete with levitation; an ending that will probably infuriate some readers; and the apparently intentional Stephen-King-esque flavor. Plus, the story combines so many standard horror tropes -- a vengeful spirit, an ancient weird house in an isolated locale, a cursed family with a dreadful secret, possession, children with unnatural powers, monstrous evil, the never-accepted outsider syndrome, and probably a few I'm forgetting -- that you wouldn't be surprised if a covey of vampires and a pack of werewolves showed up.

None of that matters and I can't quite explain why. Maybe Clegg sold his soul to the devil. If so, it may have been worth it. THE HOUR BEFORE DARK -- perhaps because of its flaws -- has bestseller potential and blockbuster movie possibilities. (Sept. 2002) -- Paula Guran (Cemetery Dance #41)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.