When I first started clipping newspaper articles and jotting down notes about the tragic events that transpired in my hometown of Edgewood, Maryland, during the summer and autumn of 1988, I had no thoughts of one day turning those scattered observations into a full-length book (1).
Richard Chizmar, successful suspense writer and friend of Stephen King, reimagines his early days as a writer but inserts a serial killer into his home town. We have a weird, suspenseful blend of real history and biography and an entirely fictional series of murders. It has become the Halloween novel of 2021.
Does it live up to the hype?
Title: Chasing the Boogeyman
Author: Richard Chizmar
First published August 17, 2021
An indistinct shadow was moving in the darkness, a flickering light guiding the way (120).
A young writer, out of college and awaiting his wedding, moves back to his home town, where he soon learns a serial killer is hunting the local teenage girls.
The book has a solid crime concept, and Chizmar’s writes very well, evoking settings and the sense of dread felt by the town. We feel the suspicion and discomfort as the investigation reveals aspects of people he thought he knew. Several stories on the side– an account by a Vietnam veteran with whom he once worked– add to the sense of terror lingering below the surface of life. His own close encounters with the darkness work very well on their own, and the book proves a page turner. I had to read to the end…
…whereupon I felt a little disappointed.
The marketing suggests we have a faux true crime book, but it’s more a suspense novel with some true crime conceits. They allow the author to cheat aspects that would make the story more interesting1 and include things that a novel wouldn’t. Every true crime book gives background on the community; his first chapter rhapsodizes on actual details of his town’s history and his experience growing up there. He does so for too long, given that most of this information has no bearing on what happens later. Chizmar inserts his fictional counterpart deep into the narrative, as protagonist and suspect, but he plays no real part in the solving of the crime2. Why would he? ˙uoᴉʇɐɯɹoɟuᴉ pǝᴉɟᴉssɐlɔ ǝɹɐɥs oʇ ƃuᴉllᴉʍ ʎlǝɹɹɐzᴉq sɯǝǝs ɹǝɔᴉɟɟo lɐɔol ɐ ɯoɥʍ ɥʇᴉʍ uosɹǝd ɐ puɐ ɹnǝʇuoɔɐɹ/ɹnǝʎoʌ ɐ s,ǝH The solution comes out of nowhere—often the case with true crime, but not especially satisfying in a novel.
Originality: 3/6 The approach to the story feels original, but the events themselves have been distilled from numerous true crime stories and accounts.
Imagery: 6/6 Stephen King has chosen to collaborate with Chizmar for good reason: the man has a cracking fine prose style.
Characterization: 5/6 The characterization of fictional-Chizmar and the town collectively feel entirely credible. Most of the individual characters lack depth. The approach makes sense, I supposed, given the premise. Who the hell knows what makes real people tick?
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall Score: 4/6 I enjoyed this book, but it falls short of its promise and potential.
In total, Chasing the Boogeyman receives 32/42
1. I allow him the unexplained cryptic clues left by the killer. We have enough information to ponder their likely meaning, and they evoke an effective sense of dread.
2. He does identify one important clue.