Monday, July 27, 2015

An update on an old fairytale monster


By David Bernstein


Publisher:  Samhain Publishing 

Pub. Date: August 4, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


In reading Goblins by David Bernstein, a strange word kept creeping up in my mind…Fun. In the horror genre it is not always the first word that comes to mind when a reviewer places those words on paper. Creepy, scary, shocking, etc. Reviewers of horror literature tend to gravitate to words like that. But fun? Why not? After all what many non-horror readers do not get is that Horror with a capital H may be an escape, a way to face our fears, a way to illuminate the dark aspects of our existence but it is always meant to be entertaining. And sometimes it is just fun.

That is how I see David Bernstein. He is a fun writer. In his last work Skinner he took an old horror movie cliche and put his own roller coaster spin on it. In Goblins, he throws together a couple of ideas. First he introduces us to an old fairytale stalwart and ups the ante. He then adds a twist with an explanation involving Roanoke Island and its mysterious phrase, “Croatoan” giving us a new version of an historical mystery. And it is all fun.

Goblins starts out innocently enough at a Little League baseball game. So much so that I got the idea I may be reading a young adult novel. That thought is quickly dispelled when one of the players goes into the woods to find a lost ball and disappears. It only gets creepier as the missing boy, or perhaps a different version of that boy, returns home to murder his parents. Small town sheriff Marcus Hale suspects something more insidious than a missing boy and a murder and as the murders escalate he discovers he is correct. Asides from having an imaginative and offbeat plot, the author does something else that is admirable, he gives us an involving and realistic protagonist in Sheriff Hale, a man who came to a small town from Chicago to escape the big city complexities of law enforcement only to be thrown into something worst. In a fast paced horror novel it is good to have a character that anchors it and keeps you caring.

The other strength is the goblins themselves. Bernstein’s goblins turn out to be a form of twisted fairy tale creature that owe more to Edward Lee than The Brothers Grimm. They are revolting, terrifying and demonic. We eventually get the back story from an unlikely sort and it weaves the rest of the novel together. The tie-in to Roanoke is a bit far-fetched yet credible enough for a fantastical horror tale. It was not something I felt was essential to the telling. Yet in the long run it did add an extra dimension.

Overall, Goblins is an enjoyable scary read that will entertain and perhaps keep a few lights on all night. It is not an intense read nor a heavy handed psychological horror novel. No new territory is claimed here but old territory is gloriously expanded. Both Skinner and Goblins seem like lead candidates for movie options since they have that non-stop action feel. Of the two, I think Goblins is the more successful if only because the author takes more risks in it. Goblins is a funhouse of a novel. Sometimes that is not only enough but exactly what we need. David Bernstein means to scare us and entertain us with his scary books and he may be the best writer around to do exactly that.

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