Ever since I managed to catch the hard-to-find and low-budget Scarecrows on video in the late '80s, I've had a bit of fascination with tales concerning this genuinely creepy type of creature. So when new-to-me author Christine Hayton's first first foray into horror popped up on Netgalley, I was all for learning whether she could generate the same kind of chills I still fondly remember from that time when video stores still ruled the world.
First, the good. Hayton skillfully weaves between different timelines as she teases out some information in the present day ("present" in this sense being 1966 for much of the novella) and then throwing it into a different light with flashbacks leading up to the night of a fateful crime described in the opening pages. She also throws a couple of genuinely intriguing curveballs into proceedings that caught me off guard and increased my interest in how the tale was going to pay off.
However - and this is a big however - Scarecrows is not at all creepy or frightening. It is, at best, mildly tense in a few scenes, and to my mind, a story about disappearances and murders in amongst fully-grown rows of corn that one young girl claims were committed by animated scarecrows, should be straight-out terrifying.
I also had a great deal of trouble understanding certain character's motivations and the actions they engaged in. At one point, for example, a psychiatrist opts to live on the farm where a crime was committed and dedicate his entire time to this one case. I couldn't help but wonder about the rest of his caseload? And how ethically compromised he was being in getting so close to his patient and her family. Oddly enough, this psychiatrist only comes to work on the case at the invitation of a colleague - the colleague being the one who dominates the early passages with the child in a mental health hospital. Only that original psychiatrist's storyline goes absolutely nowhere. Why even have her in the story? Why not just start with the latter psychiatrist and go from there?
Perhaps I'm being picky with such concerns given this is a story about scarecrows who may be murdering people. But these kinds of details threw me right out of the story and each time it happened, I found it more bothersome to climb back on. That reluctance was exacerbated by Hayton's stilted dialogue which never sounded "right" to my reading ear.
At its core Scarecrows is comprised of a quality idea and contains a couple of surprising twists, but too much went wrong with the execution of this one for me to be able to recommend it. I suspect those who are more prepared to just "go with it" will have a much better time than I.
2 Many Characters Whose Arcs Went Nowhere for Scarecrows.
The preceding was based on an eARC provided by Samhain Publishing via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.