If You Want a Great Mild Horror Novel, Go to the End of the Fiction Shelves
The Caretaker of Lorne Field, by Dave Zeltserman
I must say I don’t read a great deal of horror novels these days, but as a kid I certainly did. However I stumble upon one or two every now and then and a few months ago I came across one of the best. You’ll have to go to the end of the fiction shelves to find this one (I know must customers never venture there but they should), it’s by an author who’s not normally a horror writer and is known more for his bad arse gets out of jail gets even with those who won’t leave him alone books, however The Caretaker of Lorne Field is simply a masterpiece.
This is a great read, and it’s been a long time since the early career novels of Stephen King that I’ve read a horror novel that I could tell people who aren’t even horror novel fans, you have to read this!
The book is written through the eyes mostly of Jack Durkin, a man who from the day he was born was destined with the privilege and curse of being the caretaker of Lorne Field from the day he turned 21. His body is getting old though from the daily torment. The job is not easy, it’s mentally and physically draining. Lorne Field is the size of two football fields and he must pull Aukowie’s out of every little square centimetre of dirt every single day. It’s not an easy job, the Aukowie’s have razor sharp teeth and one lapse in concentration will mean serious injury or even death if the Aukowie’s can pull it off. In their infancy stage they are manageable, if they grow a few inches they are near impossible to pull out and kill. Any bigger and it’s the end of the town, then America and eventually the world in a matter of weeks. So no matter how injured or sick Jack is, he must remove every single Aukowie from Lorne Field, every single day. With a brief respite when the frost comes. There was a time in the 300 year history of the contract which outlines the Durkin family destiny, that the caretaker was looked upon with pity and thanks by the town who were grateful for the sacrifice made. Not anymore, only a few townspeople believe in the Aukowie. Only a few fulfil their role in the contract by providing free food and supplies to help Jack kill the Aukowie. Most at best just think Jack’s a nutcase, a lot more even resent him for the measly $8000 the town pays him for providing this service along with a rent free house to live in. His wife is one of those resenters, she married him for the social status that being his wife brought her and so she wouldn’t have to work. $8000 had seemed like a lot of money to marry into when she was a waitress. But now she wants Jack to quit the weeding as she sees it and get a real job so she can have nicer things. She punishes Jack by hiding proper food and telling him all they afford is cornflakes. She also tells their oldest son Lester he doesn’t have to become the next caretaker in four years if he doesn’t want to, which goes against the sacred contract which Jack follows religiously of the first born son taking over when he turns 21. So religiously that when Jack is pelted by tomatoes while in the field he demands that the children who did it are publicly hung as that is what the contract outlines for anyone that interferes with his duties. Of course a lot of the town, especially a sheriff who lusted after his wife when she babysat him as a child and resented Jack ever since, think it’s about time that contract was torn up.
This book works because Jack is so well written that you get right inside his head. You do feel sorry for him as he hurts, is mistreated, disrespected and stolen from by the people he is sacrificing each day of his life for. Until the final pages you have no idea if the Aukowie are real, but you do know Jack believes they are. Possible alternative explanations for things that occur throughout the plot are provided by other characters, although they do have ulterior motives so you just don’t know. Which is what makes this book so brilliant. Will Jack succeed in being able to kill the Aukowie at least until the frost comes, or will the various villains get their way and stop his work once and for all. Plus since it’s a Zeltserman novel, you the reader know, that there’s no assurance of a happy ending. Brilliant book, just read it!