Hide and Seek by Jack Ketchum is an emotional, action, horror story. That is in reverse order. The horror part of the story is based on a tried and true element, an ancient almost one-hundred-year-old abandoned house. Its original owners, Ben and Mary Crouch, had simply abandoned it. The brother and sister couple, both of whom were considered mentally feeble, had gotten behind on mortgage or tax payments. Warned of imminent foreclosure, they had simply disappeared. Perhaps they had taken some of their dogs with them, but twenty-three were left behind. Confined and hungry, they presented a challenge to the police officers who responded to a call based on neighbor complaints. After throwing food, some possibly tainted with drugs, into the house, the officers waited for the noise of dogs fighting for food to abate before entering the house. They found heaps of garbage, old newspapers, items that could only be considered junk, and general filth. The house remained empty until a doctor bought it, tried to renovate at least parts of it, but eventually gave up either out of frustration or perhaps due to a sinister implied threat from the disappeared Ben and Mary Crouch. Abandoned again, the house fascinated the curious, usually young, inhabitants of Dead River.
Dan was still considered young but he was old enough to buy alcohol. That was part of the fascination for Casey, Kim, and Steve. They were younger than Dan and also more wealthy. Steve had a Chrysler Le Baron and Casey had a Chevy convertible. The cars were far superior to Dan’s Chevy pickup truck that couldn’t go too fast without the front end trying to shake itself loose from the rest of the truck. Dan had lived in Dead River all his life. Casey, Steve, and Kim were tourists. They had no job, didn’t want a job, and would leave after the summer was over. Or not. That is what makes this a horror story. Dan had a fairly low-level job driving a forklift at a lumber mill but it satisfied Dan up until the time he met Casey. To know Casey was to accept her friends, Steve and Kim. To know Casey was to accept that she took risks just for the sake of taking risks. Dan discovered that when he realized she had just stolen the car he was riding in. When Dan accompanied the trio on shopping trips for anything, only three of them paid. Casey never paid. Whether Dan was seduced by Casey or by the thrill of taking risks is one of the questions in this novel.
While growing up in Dead River Dan and his good friend Rafferty had explored the abandoned Crouch house. Of course, they explored the house at night because that is what young people do; they explore creepy old abandoned houses in anticipation of the thrill of finding a ghost. Dan and Rafferty didn’t find a ghost but they did run away from the house because of some unexplainable feeling of fear. Dan knew the stories and rumors surrounding Ben and Mary Crouch. The pair had never resurfaced and gossip was that they had only moved closer to the sea into a series of caves and tunnels. Perhaps they only wanted to watch over the house they had never wanted to give up. Dan was grown now but still had a creepy feeling about the Crouch house. He did not want to go back there for any reason.
But then he met Casey, a girl who lived for risks. Her best friend Kim might say she had a death wish. Kim knew a haunting secret from Casey’s past, one that provoked the death wish and depression that could only be lightened by taking risks. Dan knew there was something strange in her past but Casey’s friends would not tell. Dan would have to find out for himself. Meanwhile, Dan became a participant in the gang’s risk-taking adventures. Once Casey heard the story of the Crouch house, it was only a matter of time that she would come up with a risk that should entertain Dan. Maybe the whole scheme was a test for Dan. The four would play a game of hide and seek in the abandoned house. At night, of course. And without flashlights.
This is where the horror and action elements come together. For this game of hide and seek in the dark, each of the four would draw a length of rope from a bag. The one with the shortest length of rope was “it.” That person would collect all the lengths of rope and carry them while searching for the other three. When a person was found, “It” would use two of the ropes to tie the person up. Another two ropes were for another found person and then “It” was free to find the last person at which time the game was over. Ketchum describes the set up for the game and the search in the dark in a way that will provoke reader shivers. And, of course, there are things in the dark that were not anticipated. This action element continues to the novel’s conclusion. This part is one of those page-turner, can’t-put-it-down parts.
So where is the emotional part? After chapter twenty-three, the novel’s conclusion, there is an eight-part addendum titled Risky Living: A Memoir. Readers should identify the elements that Ketchum expanded for Hide and Seek. Due to its basis in reality, I found it emotional. It is not a teaser or prequel for another novel. Readers who do not read it will miss something important that adds a lot to Hide and Seek.
Ketchum does a fine job of writing in the first person. Dan gives frequent hints at secrets and the reader is pulled by a continuing set of teases and hints about what will be revealed. The vocabulary is crisp and spare without unneeded words. I look forward to reading more Jack Ketchum novels. I gave this novel five Amazon stars for the entertaining writing style.