I think I stumbled on a near-perfect Halloween read. Creepy monster? Check. Harvest time festivities with a body count? Check. Autumnal vibes with a hint of nostalgia? Check.
Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge is a horror novel set in a backwater town with one hell of an annual tradition.
He goes by different names, October Boy, Sawtooth Jack or Ol’ Hacksaw Face. All three names mean the same thing, a chance. Each year on Halloween, the October Boy rolls into town with one goal, get into the church. If he succeeds, he will bring about the town’s destruction. So they send an army of teenage boys to take him down, known as The Run or The Hunt. The boys are locked away with next to no food for five days in preparation, the only food they are allowed is the candy that drops from the October Boy’s nightmarish form when one of them kills him.
Said boy and his family will be made rich and given a chance to leave the godforsaken town. Hence is why sixteen-year-old Pete McCormick is desperate to be this year’s victor. Sick to death of this rotten place, Pete is willing to risk his life to get out of dodge. However, there may be more to the October Boy and the town at large than he could have ever guessed, much darker than he first thought.
Dark Harvest has a somewhat old school horror film vibe. It feels like an episode of Creepshow. While it isn’t scary, it is creepy. From the get-go, everything feels off. The story is narrated in a way that makes you feel like you are having a conversation while the plot unfolds around you. As if you are some kind of apparition watching everything go down while chatting to someone in the same boat as you.
As with most horror stories, the focus is on the events of The Run, meaning there isn’t room for much character development outside of Pete. Even then, that boils down to changing his perspective a tad. This rollercoaster of a novel moves fast, stuff like that would have dragged the pace down, and I suspect Dark Harvest would have suffered for that. Normally, I would be disappointed by the lack of growth, but it works here.
Admittedly, I did see the reveal coming. However, I don’t think that ruined anything for me. I find that with horror, you tend to have more fun if you lean into it. Don’t question why the killer who is slowly stalking the victim manages to catch up when the other is sprinting full tilt, that kind of mindset.
My only real complaint is there are a few plot points that don’t really go anywhere. Even then, it’s hardly deal-breaking. Also, although this is a personal nitpick, it is very American. I had to google what the candy bars were as we don’t have those here in Scotland. It didn’t ruin my immersion, but it did make me feel a tad out of the loop. As I said, personal nitpick, not an actual complaint against the novel.
As it turns out, Dark Harvest is getting a film adaptation. Originally scheduled to come out this year, but the release was delayed thanks to Covid. I couldn’t help but notice some notable differences in the plot synopsis. That is to be expected, it is the nature of adaptations, after all. However, while the change does make sense, it will change the plot notably so. To the point that it might have very few elements of the original in it. Still, I’m going to keep my eye on it in the meantime.
Dark Harvest is a short novel, a fast-paced one too. A perfect book to read on Halloween, or as a breather between two dense books. It’s creepy, violent and dramatic. I enjoyed it and can see why it won the 2007 Bram Stoker Award. It’s a grand spooky read that I do suggest you try.