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This is the third and final (so far) novel by Al Sarrantonio in his Orangefield series that focuses on the “Halloween-themed” supernatural events that occur in a small town in upstate New York called Orangefield. The first two novels in the series are Horrorween (which collects the short stories “Hornets” and “The Pumpkin Boy” as well as the novella “Orangefield”) and Hallows Eve. Sarrantonio’s first two books in this series are surprisingly hard to find and I have not yet been able to do so. In any case, Halloweenland was my first exposure to Sarrantonio’s fiction. (Special thanks to jseger9000 on the contents of Horrorween!)

Note: This review features plot spoilers — read at your own risk.

The primary protagonist is Detective Bill Grant, an alcoholic widower who has spent a career dealing with the “weird shit” (as he calls it) that happens every Halloween season in Orangefield, New York. Many of these cases deal with the periodic appearance of “Samhain,” a foreboding figure whose appearance heralds impending doom and death. There are occasional allusions to some of the bizarre cases Grant has dealt with in the other Orangefield books, but they are adequately explained and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a great deal having not read those. My interest in these previous cases was piqued, but not overly spoilered that I wouldn’t want to still read them. This time around, Grant must deal with a woman who is impregnated by her recently deceased husband – the book’s terrific opening depicts this (she doesn’t know he’s dead). The woman eventually gives birth to a daughter – deformed in some poorly-worded way and certainly not an ordinary baby – who is promptly whisked away by Samhain. As it turns out, this child heralds the potential end of the world (something Samhain is not exactly in favor of), and in a final mystic showdown, Samhain helps Grant in stopping her. I won’t delve any further into how these events unfold, save to mention that the antagonist Samhain is portrayed in what I felt was an increasingly sympathetic manner, and by the end of the novel, we get a taste of just who/what Samhain is.

Despite sharing many of the same themes as some of Ray Bradbury’s work (Halloween, autumnal spookiness, a dark carnival, etc.), Al Sarrantonio is not an evocative poet the way that Bardbury is. Sarrantonio’s prose is workmanlike and quick-moving. It’s perfectly fine for a thriller/horror novel. It doesn’t contain masterful word-weaving that will make you want to read it allowed to friends and family, but it also doesn’t interfere with the plot. Characterization of the human protagonists is very good; the antagonists (Samhain and the girl) are only hastily sketched out and could use some work, which weakened the novel’s climax for me.

It may be that I would have liked this book better had I read the first two Orangefield books, and while knowledge of them is by no means essential (I never felt lost), at least two other seemingly-important characters from the previous books come into play in the final quarter of the novel, so long-term readers of the series would likely enjoy encountering these characters once again.

My copy of Halloweenland also contains a copy of the novella “The Baby,” which is substantively identical to the first third of the novel, save that the ending chapter of “The Baby” was changed for the novel. While it’s nice to have a copy of “The Baby,” only the final few pages of it differ from what you’ve just read in Halloweenland, so there’s not all that much value added. For what it’s worth, I prefer the ending of “The Baby” to what happened in Halloweenland.

I give Halloweenland 3 stars out of 5. I wanted to like it more than the actual book warranted, but will probably still pick up Sarrantonio’s other Orangefield books when I see them.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers