Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest became an instant classic of Halloween fiction upon its 2006 publication, and since then has remained perennially popular (Bloody Disgusting recently featured it in a listing of “13 Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit“). What many fans might have failed to realize, though, is that this wasn’t Partridge’s first October-based short novel. That distinction belongs to 1998’s Wildest Dreams (a reworking/expansion of the author’s 1992 short story “Tombstone Moon”).
In Wildest Dreams, tough-guy narrator Clay Saunders is a contract killer whose tongue is no less sharp than his K-bar knife. He is hired to decapitate Diabolos Whistler, the notorious head of a satanic church with international reach. The hit goes off without a hitch; nevertheless, when Saunders attempts to collect payment, he faces a deadly double-cross and an attempted frame job that spurs him to do some “detective work.” Such synopsis makes the book sound like standard Gold Medal fare, but the genre-hybridizing Partridge also turns the screw towards horror. For starters, Saunders (who was born with a caul) can see ghosts–including those of the people he’s dispatched. Also, Whistler’s prophesy that his own ruined corpse will form the cradle for Satan’s earthly rebirth suggests that the bloody mayhem won’t be limited to the initial murder of the cult figure.
The novel offers some terrific images, such as a “hanging tree” ripe with fantastic fruit (the ghosts of six lynched witches). There’s also a variation on a “haunted house,” whose concrete-embedded bottles supposedly store the souls of the devil-pledged. While descending a hidden stairway stretching from a trapdoor in the floor of the bottle house, Saunders is tempted to make “a crack about forgetting his trick or treat bag.” This isn’t the lone invocation of October ritual in the novel. After shooting a pair of henchmen, Saunders (sporting a “monster mask” that would make Hannibal Lecter proud) observes: “Two splashes in the pool. Two dead men bobbing like Halloween apples.”
One can detect echoes of Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart (a skinless, posthumous antagonist numbers among the cast), and the climactic twist is worthy of another identifiable precursor, William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel. But the book is a product of Partridge’s unique vision, rendered with trademark style. For the lover of supernatural noir (where some seasonal orange mixes in with the black), Wildest Dreams is an absolute dream come true.