Night Stone (1986) by Rick Hautala

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It’s the one with the hologram! Look, it’s a kid! Now it’s a skeleton! It’s a million copy bestseller, that’s what it is. The nearly 600-page novel beneath the small, shiny hologram proves that Zebra probably knew and cared more about marketing than editing.

The Inman family moves into Don the dad’s ancestral home in rural maine, a house which has been abandoned for a long time. Tenants never stay for long and its original owners the Kivinen family met with tragedy and death. Soon Don dreams of giant bleeding stones and finds an ancient severed hand possibly of Native American origin buried in the ground. Meanwhile, Beth the daughter finds and bonds with a creepy doll, always a bad sign, while Jan the wife tries her hand at waitressing and serves as the one normal person in the increasingly dysfunctional family trio.

The atmosphere is king here and Hautala gets it right from the start. The decaying but still habitable house and its sylvanian premises ooze some of that sweet New England backwoods magic, familiar from his other novels. Hautala uses his own Finnish roots as ingredients for the immigrant Kivinen family, adding a word of Finnish here and there for authencity (sadly there are some mistakes in grammar and spelling, but I guess checking stuff out in the pre-Internet age wasn’t as easy as it is today).

There’s something almost Lovecraftian in the way the ancient plot hides ancient secrets, which the increasingly obsessed Don digs out like a Nahum Gardner. University experts swoop in like their colleagues in The Colour Out of Space, and could those scratching sounds underground be Rats in the Walls? It’s a nice touch in a novel that otherwise follows the basic tenets of eighties horror 101, with even a cameo by a sex-obsessed voyeur teen familiar from anything by Richard Laymon.

But the novel meanders a bit and occasionally loses its focus, with the many different elements not quite coming together into an effective whole. At nearly 600 pages there’s a lot of excess, with some plotlines going nowhere and others getting abrupt endings. The finger of blame points accusingly at the editors at Zebra, but maybe they were busy with the hologram nonsense. The events do pick up pace towards the tragic conclusion, but getting there is often slow going.

The ending itself is as unhappy as it gets, with sadness and loneliness turned up to eleven. There’s something unmistakably Finnish and Scandinavian about it, with none of new world optimism at display. In the end Night Stone feels simultaneously too ambitious and not ambitious enough. But there might be the bones of a good novel buried somewhere deep beneath that gleaming, beckoning hologram.

*** (3/5)

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