In this horror debut, a teen outsider’s obsession with death draws him into the morbid undercurrents of a Maine town.
It’s 1985, and 17-year-old Chris Chandler and his family have just moved to Bemishstock, Maine. Chris’ father works for Allied Paper Products of Wisconsin as the man who shuts down plants and curtails the livelihoods of entire towns. This makes Chris a pariah every day in school; he visits the Willard family graveyard for solitude. One morning, after forgetting to complete a social studies project, Chris cobbles together a presentation about 19th-century grave robbers. Mallory Dahlman, the most gorgeous and popular girl in school, coincidentally delivers a project about the funeral rites of the Torajan people of Indonesia. Both reports succeed, and Mallory begins flirting with Chris wildly—enraging her jock boyfriend, Floyd Balzer. Meanwhile, teen farmhand Gillian Willard has noticed Chris repeatedly visit her family’s graveyard. She sympathizes with the loner and befriends him. Elsewhere in Bemishstock, Dr. Meath (chiropractor, goat farmer, and funeral parlor employee) has been experimenting on stolen corpses. Chris witnesses Meath’s thievery, yet he’s a bit distracted by his aggressive new girlfriend, Mallory, and her insistence that the misery of others is theirs to play with. In this gloriously macabre novel—the first installment of a series—Blake channels Stephen King and 1980s cult films like Re-Animator. He sets the miserable scene in stating “ash was the color of Bemishstock; all gray stone and unpainted, weathered wood.” Readers learn about Victorian-era fears of being buried alive when Chris says, “You could buy coffins with bells in them.” Further history delves into the existence of the Mortsafemen, who would protect the dead from grave robbers. Blake’s characters take shape briskly and enjoyably, as when the salacious Mallory tells her mother, “I think we’ve had enough dinner. I’m going to take him to my room...for dessert.” Chris’ friendship with widow Felix Holcomb is especially touching because she teaches him to treasure his teen years (“Meaning is something you only discover in a rear-view mirror”).
Fans should claw at Blake’s windows for more graveyard tales after this delightful series opener.
Dead Scared: The Mortsafeman Trilogy, Book One is a horror novel for young adults written by Ivan Blake. Being the new kid in school is problematic at best, especially when it’s high school, and the town is a small and insular mill town in Maine. Everyone knew everyone else in Bemishstock, Maine, a once thriving industrial center that now had only one manufacturer still operating a plant there, Allied Paper Products of Wisconsin. And while no one could actually say that they enjoyed the stink and air pollution that went along with a paper production plant, the fact that Chris Chandler was the son of the man who was spearheading Allied Paper’s move to shut the plant down made him even more despised in school. Chris’s very presence symbolized the death of Bemishstock, and the other students, and their parents, were not at all circumspect in their desire to strike back at him. Finding his locker dripping with pig’s blood was commonplace, but being hauled up before the sheriff for things he didn’t do was driving Chris to a feeling of desperation he would never have imagined before. He still couldn’t understand why his father had taken this position with the company; why they moved to this awful town; and why his mom didn’t laugh and smile as she used to. Then, the richest, cutest and most popular girl in his class suddenly seemed to notice him, and while he knew her bully boyfriend would probably make him regret it, he couldn’t resist the feeling, finally, of being accepted.
Ivan Blake’s young adult dark fantasy novel, Dead Scared: The Mortsafeman Trilogy, Book One, is an intense and brooding tale that delivers. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as getting wrapped up in a good, old fashioned horror story, and Blake’s plot had me instantly hooked. I loved the gloomy New England atmosphere, and was suitably spooked by the creepy defrocked British chiropractor who had a goat farm and a very dark secret. Chris is a grand main character; he’s strong, resourceful and someone I’d want on my side in a tough situation. Blake’s plot is cunning and dark and has a fascinating historical background, and his characters are believable and complex. His writing is often lyrically lovely, but this never gets in the way of the action and horror that this book is steeped in. I’m eagerly anticipating the next book in Blake’s The Mortsafeman Trilogy and most highly recommend Dead Scared.
Dead Scared, rated by Readers Favorite as Five Stars and described as "a dark and brooding tale that delivers," and by Kirkus Reviews as "gloriously macabre," is today being released in eBook format by its publisher, MuseItUp Publishing of Montreal. Dead Scared is also available in paperback.