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Stage Whispers is subtitled "The Collected Timmy Quinn." He is an 11-year old boy who sees dead people throughout his life cycle. It is comprised of 4 novellas—I hate the term "novelette"—and a prologue short story. There is also an introduction by the author entitled "A Kind of Haunting". The series is completed in a full novel, Nemesis, available in a 300-print limited hardback or e-book. The only part of Timmy's story I'm considering now is the first one, "The Turtle Boy". It won the Stoker back in 2004.

We're in Delaware, probably in the 80s decade. Timmy and his best friend, Pete, are off on a summer adventure. They head for the pond; not to fish or swim, but to just be in a place Timmy and his friends claimed as their own. That their parents considered it unsafe for little boys and discouraged them from visiting, just made it more appealing. Who would want to miss legendary turtles "the size of Buicks . . . waiting for unsuspecting toes to come wiggling"(p.31)?

But, when they arrive, there's a strange boy dangling his foot in the water. When asked, he says, "feeding the turtles"(p.33), and a bite out of his ankle and blood in the water proves it. The boys are immediately uneasy. Looking into the new boy's eyes like "cold, dark stones"(p.32) reminds Timmy of a catfish. It's a summer afternoon. Doesn't matter. They book.

At home, Timmy is read a bedtime story by his dad. Pete gets a shiner and is on restriction. The underbellies of their homelives are most notable in opposition. The next thing Timmy knows, Pete's been shuffled off to summer camp for the duration. Timmy's parents arrange a new playmate to bring him out of his depression.

Kim Barnes. A girl.

Okay, this is supposed to be a ghost story—and it is—but it is more effective being a Coming of Age tale. Of course, unless you're a teener, its success is going to depend on your individual Nostalgia Meter. You know, tires on rope swings, chiggers and fireflies, streamers on your bike's handlebars and playing cards in its spokes. "The stars looked brighter, the moon looked closer, and there was nothing we believed we couldn't do"(p.8), as the author so lavishly tantalizes us in his introduction. Those moments of past delight are deeper felt than any scare tricks the horror theme brings up. In fact, the read is building just fine—human monsters are far worse than incorporeal ones; the tension scale ratchets well and pages turn rapidly; girls are almost as unknown and scary as the supernatural; Mom and Dad are your childhood saviors, even if you don't know it yet—until the climax. The familiar bone of a murder mystery is tossed into the wordstew, and even a foreshadowed fatal accident with past kids and a lethal train never in the story is solved. But that just muddles the ghostly interaction and strips it of any fear it can muster, in this reader, anyway. Holding hands for the first time with a girl seems more terrifying. Usually, there is some subtle and vested reasoning explaining the how or why of a haunting other than being pissy 'cause you're dead or bothered with who killed you. But, to be fair, maybe that comes in the later volumes.

Or not.


text only © copyright 01/04/2016 by Larry Crawford

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