Short Take: I genuinely don’t know what to think, and I like it.
Hello my beloved nerdlings! We’re coming up on the tail end of a long, strange summer here. Kids are getting ready to go back to school (and can we all send a wish to whatever force we believe in that they are able to be safely in class this year?), Halloween decorations are popping up in stores, and pumpkin spice is starting to sneak into all my favorite desserts. It’s the time of year when those of us who are Of A Certain Age start to feel our nostalgia nerve twitching, when we all feel a little closer to the people we used to be before life and the world hit us a few too many times with the old Reality Stick.
And speaking of nostalgia and realities, let me tell you about Richard Chizmar’s new book, Chasing The Boogeyman.
In a nutshell: the year is 1988, a young Richard Chizmar moves back to his hometown (Edgewood, Maryland) for a few months after graduating college. He’s getting ready for marriage and trying to launch his own horror magazine, and it’s a kind of suspended animation, an in-between time, after school but before real life.
However, during his visit, several beautiful young women are murdered. Of course to a budding horror author and publisher, the idea of a REAL LIVE SERIAL KILLER nearby is pure catnip, an his fascination borders on obsession.
Despite the fairly simple plot, Chasing The Boogeyman is one of those books that defies easy description. Part memoir, part thriller, part maybe-true crime, a kaleidoscopic mix of fiction and nonfiction where the lines between the two are so fine as to be invisible. I’m not going to give away which parts are which, but let me just say that my jaw hit my chest (fortunately, I had already swallowed the brownie I was eating) when all was revealed.
For a book ostensibly about a serial killer, Chasing The Boogeyman is really a love letter to a very specific time and place. Much of the book is devoted to Mr. Chizmar’s all-American boyhood, his wonderful supportive parents, and his tight-knit circle of friends.
To be honest, it was those meandering reminiscences that I had the biggest issue with. I’m not opposed to flashbacks, or town history, or great parents, or BFF’s or any of that. But it was all just so shiny-picture-perfect, Leave It To Beaver-y, that I was waiting for him to casually drop that his mom was running the vacuum in pearls and heels.
I mean, I’m sure that the author DID have a great childhood, and that’s wonderful for him. But as I frequently tell the Junior Nerdlings, happy childhoods are boring. I guess my gripe is that although quite interesting, and with some marvelous narrative sleight-of-hand, Chasing The Boogeyman just isn’t the kind of exciting that I would expect from the description.
Which isn’t to say it’s bad. The central mystery is compelling, and a lot of the prose is absolutely lovely. I just wish there had been more conflict and tension.
The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and maybe just one more brownie. Y’know, for science.)