Moonbog

March 3, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bogMoonbog by Rick Hautala

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What’s creepier than a bog? Half forest, half lake, it’s a part of nature that’s managed to strike a balance between life and death and still survive. It’s a perfect setting for a horror novel, and I was as excited to read this now as I was when I first read it in 1995 (I had forgotten pretty much everything about this book since then).

Sadly, Moonbog isn’t a supernatural story. Our main character, David, returns to his small hometown to settle his mother’s will (which, for some reason, is always capitalized as “Will” in the novel), and while he’s there he gets caught up in a series of murdered and missing children. Of course, the eerie bog right on the edge of town is a central part of the story, which adds to the atmosphere, but I felt like there was a lot lost by not having some mystical creature roaming the bog.

In Moondeath, Hautala avoided relying on the whodunnit aspect that takes up a large portion of other werewolf stories, but in Moonbog, he goes back to exactly that. The big question of the novel is who’s abducting and killing the children. Hautala gives us a couple of options as to the killer’s identity, making some of them so obvious as to make us think they’re red herrings, while also creating enough suspicion to keep us from writing them off completely. The reveal was satisfying, but getting there was a bit of a slog. He drew out the pursuit part of the story, making it lack the tension it needed. Also, Hautala’s narrative style is fine, but he tends to spend a lot of time on incidental details that don’t add much to the story.

I’m seeing the same problems with Hautala as I did with Richard Laymon, though, as he doesn’t do much for his female characters. David’s girlfriend is portrayed as a one-dimensional harpy, and aside from the mothers of the missing children, she’s the only female character who gets any attention in the book. There’s no real reason as to why she acts the way she does, and we get very little of the story told from her perspective to allow us to sympathize with her frustration. Apparently Hautala just needed a screeching foil for his main character, and he gave that role to his girlfriend.

That problem could be due to his characterization, which felt weak. His antagonist was just an evil guy, whose motivations are explained away by another character making suppositions about the other person, and that’s done in just a few pages. Even his protagonists were shells instead of realized, so when people died, there was no investment to make the deaths impactful. They were just there to service the story, and whatever connections could have been there just didn’t matter.

In the end, the potential for the story outweighs its execution. This is the second horror novel I’ve read that has used a bog as a central setting (the other being The Man in the Moss by Phil Rickman), and both of them were lacking. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had a fascination with bogs, and I build up the idea of the story to impossible levels. Regardless, I’m still waiting to read a good horror novel that features a bog.

Unfortunate Musical Connection: “Moonchild” by Iron Maiden (again)

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