Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar. I’d seen this recommended by a friend and having really started to get into true crime books recently, figured I would see what it was all about. My thanks to publisher Hodder & Stoughton for the early copy for review. Here’s the book stuff.
About the Author
The New York Times bestselling coauthor of Gwendy’s Button Box brings his signature ‘thrilling, page-turning’ (Michael Koryta, author of How It Happened) prose to this story of small-town evil that combines the storytelling of Stephen King with the true-crime suspense of Michelle McNamara.
In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman-and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.
Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.
A clever, terrifying, and heartrending work of metafiction, ‘Chasing the Boogeyman does what true crime so often cannot: it offers both chills and a satisfying conclusion’ (Stephen King). Chizmar’s ‘brilliant . . . absolutely fascinating, totally compelling, and immediately poignant’ (C.J. Tudor, New York Times bestselling author) writing is on full display in this truly unique novel that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.
I’ve got to be honest. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I started reading this book. I’m not even sure if the book met those expectations, whatever they were. It is a very clever concept, but one I had read before, quite recently in fact, and thoroughly loved, so it was always going to be a big ask for the book to match that level of enjoyment. I think what sets the two apart is that the first book, whilst a work of fiction, is written exactly as though it was a true crime investigation. Everything about it points toward it being crime fact. In Chasing The Boogeyman, we know that this is a work of fiction, and I suppose that was foremost in my mind as I read, and so I took it as such, never quite taking all of the story as seriously as I might.
The first part of the story is spent in setting the scene, introducing the reader to Richard Chizmar’s hometown and to his extended circle of family and friends. This is a very key part of the tale, one which informs the way in which the story, and the investigation into the mysterious ‘boogeyman’ and seemingly homegrown murderer progresses. There is something very real, something very everyday about the author’s start in life, the kinds of scenes you picture from buddy movies like Stand By Me or even the Goonies, a bunch of kids doing what kids do best. It gives readers a strong sense of place, of the very ordinary nature of the small town community, which makes the subsequent murders all the more shocking.
There is a strong sense of the true crime investigation about the book, even though, at times, the author seems to take far more liberties and be in far deeper than he should, adding to the tension and the suspense of the book, but also being the point at which it becomes a little too transparently fictional for me. Much of what happens feels like a very plausible scenario, the relationship between the author and the investigating Detective, Harper, a good example. I can picture the grudging allegiance between the two and the dynamic was captured perfectly. There are other moments of real tension and emotional scenes which can tug at the hardest heart and which have echoes of the many devastated families that have been seen on news reports over the years. The case itself, all too plausible, and though carefully portrayed, still packed with tension and an almost sense of inevitable dread.
It’s really hard to talk about character when the principal in the story is the author themselves, but the way in which he drew the people around him, the way he brought them to life, paying homage to those who were real and creating an authenticity about those who were pure fiction made it hard to see where the lines were drawn. Certainly setting the story in a place he knew so well paid dividends as he was able to recreate every aspect of the landscape and therefore amplify the horrific nature of the crimes tenfold. This is a community where everyone knows everyone else. Where the crimes that are committed could never be imagined happening once, never mind being replicated.
This is a very fine piece of metafiction, no doubt about that, and the author is skilled at crafting a tale which draws the reader in, I guess I was just expecting something a little … different. The author takes time in scene setting and I suppose this is where I struggled a little as I became impatient to get to the heart of the story and to see it reach its conclusion. It was almost as though so much of the story is given over to the author’s high-jinx that the whodunnit part felt like an afterthought. That maybe we were still denied some big revelation. Did the ending astound me? Perhaps not. I suppose I was expecting what came to pass. I enjoyed the story, and I did eventually find my flow with it. Certainly I think fans of true crime investigations will enjoy it, as long as they take it for what it is – pure faction.