Richard Chizmar, successful suspense writer and friend and collaborator 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 with fictional crime. It has become the must-read thriller of Autumn 2021.
Does it live up to the hype?
A young writer, out of college and awaiting his wedding, moves back to his home town. Around the same time, a serial killer starts hunting local girls, severing an ear from each as a trophy, and leaving clues so cryptic the book won't even explain them.
If "serial killer of teen girls" isn't terribly original, the book finds a few tasty items in the fridge. Chizmar evokes a strong sense of the settings and the town's feelings of dread and besiegement. Several stories on the side– an account by a Vietnam veteran with whom he once worked, and an old woman's recollection of an older legend– add to the sense of terror lingering below the surface of life. The narrator experiences his own close encounters with the darkness. Chasing the Boogeyman proves a page turner. I had to read to the end-- whereupon I felt a little disappointed.
The marketing describes the book as faux true crime, but it's more a suspense novel with some true crime conceits. The approach allows Chizmar to include some elements a novel typically wouldn't while cheating others that would make one more interesting. Every true crime book gives background on the community; CTB's first chapter rhapsodizes on actual details of his town's history and the author's experience growing up there. 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 crime. Why would he? He's a voyeur/raconteur and a person with whom a local officer seems bizarrely willing to share classified information, but he's not really a player. The solution, as a result, comes out of nowhere. This is often the case with true crime, but not especially satisfying in a novel.
I will allow Chizmar the unexplained cryptic clues, however. We receive enough hints, and their possible implications linger in our minds.
Chasing the Boogeyman makes for interesting reading, but it's not the breakthrough some reviewers have claimed. In addition, many of its secondary characters lack depth. I suppose, however, given the book's premise and themes, we should expect that.
Who the hell knows what's going on in other people's heads?
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