Al Sarrantonio,
Hallows Eve
(Cemetery Dance, 2004)

A haunted, atmospheric story, Hallows Eve is set in a town dominated by pumpkins. The high-growth industry that turns the landscape orange each year -- and supplies the obvious name of Orangefield -- means local businesses thrive on all things Halloween.

That makes Orangefield a nexus for Samhain, a death god who draws his identity from the Celtic festival coinciding with Halloween. And Samhain has a plan to spread his domain into the living world.

But Orangefield's ubiquitous pumpkin-headed scarecrow provides corporeal form for a recently dead spirit who opposes the expansion of death's domain. For three hypersensitive residents of the town, that means waking nightmares and shifting realities that could help or hinder the plan. For others who might stand in Samhain's way, it very likely means an unpleasant murder.

Hallows Eve continues Al Sarrantonio's series of novels and short fiction set in Orangefield and dealing with Samhain's dark machinations. This novel stands alone, although I sense that a familiarity with the earlier books would have helped to understand certain aspects of the plot. The story does grow tangled and a little hard to follow at places, and the depiction of souls on Samhain's side of the veil -- cardboard cutouts and spongy geometrical shapes -- are pretty silly, adding a candyland air to an otherwise menacing scene.

And, frankly, I'm not exactly sure how everything resolved at the end. In the final chapters, things started happening too quickly for clarity's sake.

Still, despite some minor hitches, Hallows Eve succeeds by providing a creepy location, sinister forces at work and a population of innocent and not-so-innocent characters to weave into the story. While Samhain remains somewhat two-dimensional by book's end, it's a concept worth further development in novels to come.

by Tom Knapp
4 February 2006

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