Author: Peter Crowther
Title: By Wizard Oak
‘It’s just a book that the folks of the small town of Magellan Bend recall reading. A little gruesome, perhaps… and, in more than one instance, not the reader’s usual fare. But it’s just a book. Nothing more.’
Okay, so I told you I’d talk about this book when I’d finished reading it. It took me a while, but I finished it last night and wanted to take a moment just to say ‘eeeep!’
Take a town, any old town and bring it forward to Halloween. Visit the people of this town and realise that slowly, steadily, most oddly, they are remembering people that just don’t exist. Family members, friends, even distant acquaintances you might have seen across the street while buying your own newspaper. Suddenly, you begin to remember them. Worse than that, you realise that they’re gone and have been for a long time.
As soon as I realised what was going on with this book I had trouble putting it down (which is a problem because I have my own damn book to write!). The witches of Magellan Bend have returned, as they always do (because… why not?), to glut themselves of a feast of memories. I love that idea, and I love the thought that they can twist things enough that in the opening chapter, the poor, screaming, sobbing children reach out to their parents to save them and realise, seconds before their demise, that there will be no help. Indeed, their parents are laughing and so is everybody else along the row of revellers lined up to watch the parade.
The image of a man, one Jack Westerman, trying desperately to leave the town and yet coming back to the same spot over and over again, is comical as well as sad. You know, not only is he never going to escape, but he’s also not going to be the last.
There are lots of small things that stood out in this book for me; the short and snappy chapters, The Great Depression (ew) and how defeating the menace in the end really was ‘a piece of piss.’ Teehee.
I recall that when I won the book from the raffle at Alt Fiction, Peter found me afterwards and apologised. It was at that point that I promised I’d write about what I thought and I must say… all the things he apologised for are my absolute favourite parts! Who knew someone pissing on the floor could be creepy as well as just gross and unsanitary? :p Peter has done a fantastic job of not only maintaining the shudder-factor with this book, but by making it utterly different to anything else about witches I have ever read before. They may wear black dresses, pointy hats and have a couple of warts but that’s where any similarities to anything else stops dead and falls flat on its face. The story races along in scattered chunks which, as the tale progresses, knits together to form a full tapestry of how long these witches have been around, how much trouble and mayhem they’ve caused and how the memories of one fourteen year old boy can shake things up beyond repair. There is a descriptive grace to this book which now has me looking forward to this year’s Halloween.
The holiday (even if it isn’t really a holiday in this country) has steadily, over the years, lost its fear factor. Its no longer even remotely scary, instead its about sweets, money and silly costumes of fairies, cute Disney style witches and sheets with holes cut in the top- sorry I mean ghosts. Even when this tale pokes light fun at that, the creeping chill at the back of your neck is all the more palpable when the real witches, the real menace begins to stalk you through the darkness.
This is the first book I’ve read from the bundle I picked up at Alt Fiction. Its done well enough that I’ll be looking for more of Peter’s books when I have a gap. I do have another eleven books to get through however. And I’ve bought two more books since that event. So its going to be busy. However, just like I promised, I will continue to write about them; reviewing the story and style in my own way. I don’t read a lot of book reviews (though I’m beginning to), so I’m sure there are a lot of conventions out there that people might have in mind on how this is done. Well, just so you know, I’ll be doing them all in my own way and with my own voice. It should be fun.
Coming up soon, some crime by Lynda La Plante.