I had never heard of Charles L. Grant, and I have been reading horror for a long time. I came across this book when I googled "Top 100 Horror Books" and found a list, which I printed up with the hopes that it would introduce me to new authors. I picked this book of the list and am now questioning the author of the list's credibility.
First off, this is horror decaf, no where did I read that this was a young adult novel, and with the praise from Steven King and Whitley Strieber on the cover I assumed it was a regular horror novel. Now granted the picture of the horse on the cover had me leery, but I figured "The headless horseman rode a big nasty horse, what the heck." This is 100% a youth novel, probably most enjoyed by the 12-15 year old crew, not quite ready for the jump into King territory but still interested in darker reading. The gore is minimal, the profanity is mild, and though sex is discussed... it's typical teen banter about boobs and such.
Here's the short synopsis: Don is 17 and having a rough time at life in general, his Dad is the principle at his high school so he is constantly tormented, picked on and beat up by the big stereotypical jocks. Don's Mom is an art teacher who keeps herself busy doing anything other than being at home to be a mom. Don spends most of his time sitting in his room talking to pictures and models of animals he has. Then a serial killer comes to town and Don realizes that sometimes wishes do come true... just not in the way you expected.
This story has been done before a thousand times over... it's the tale of someone acquiring a supernatural protector who's a bit too protective and slightly on the homicidal side. Graham Masterton did a better job with this story in his book "Spirit." If you have never read a horror book, or watched a horror movie then you might manage to be impressed with this tale. Unfortunately, the characters are straight high school stereotypes, the adults are almost buffoonish, actions and reactions to things are completely unnatural, and the plot has gaping holes in it.
I know that people seem to love this book, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. There is nothing new here, it was far from exciting, it wasn't scary, gory, or really even that much fun. The main character - Don, is a whiny, angst-filled teen who comes across as a bit of a temperamental moron. I mean if I knew that anyone who upset me stood the chance of being trampled to death, then I think I might keep from raging about those that I love over stupid things... like the fact that they had to go home before curfew.
The biggest problem that I had was that our big nasty protector... is a horse. Granted he's a big horse... but really, horses don't scare me. In fact I find them to be rather pretty and lovable. Now a panther I could see, or a wolf or something... but not a horse. I had a lot of trouble buying into the idea of a horse traipsing about town and trampling people... even if he is a spirit horse or whatever he was (never explained so don't hold your breath on that one).
The biggest problem with the book isn't the horse... it's that this is basically a compilation of horror cliche after horror cliche with very little real meat in between our cliche's. Every scene is something you've either seen or read before, lashed together by paper thin stereotypes serving as our characters. Even the ending is a huge letdown, no big bang, no coup-de-gras, no body strewn battle ground... it's just an easily put away and wrapped up ending like a toy in a box.
As a horror reader I like to latch onto a character and want to root for them, I want to worry about them, and I want to bite my nails when they are in trouble... there was no one in here that the reader can even remotely care about much less want to root for. Oh sure you'll find someone, Tracey perhaps, but you'll pick them by default because there really isn't anyone here for the reader to care about.
Now if you are 12 and want to read a slightly scary book with not too much gore and horses included then this should be right up your alley. If you're 30 like me, and a war hardened horror reader, buy this for your 12 year old as an intro, but don't bother reading it yourself.