Review: Scratch by Steve Himmer (Dark House Press, 200 pages)
Goodreads synopsis: Martin Blaskett moves to a small town to oversee construction of a housing development, where he encounters a shape-shifting figure from local legend—Scratch. He is taken under the wing of his new neighbor, a retired hunting guide named Gil Rose, and befriends a local woman named Alison. Along the way, trouble ensues as Scratch feels threatened by changes to the landscape, luring locals out into the woods, including Alison’s son. As the blame for a range of events falls at Martin’s feet, he is beset by increasingly inhuman dreams, and comes to doubt his own innocence. A literary novel of wilderness noir that engages the supernatural elements of folklore in the manner of magical realism, Scratch explores the overlapping layers of history, ecology, and storytelling that make up a place.
Recommended for: Nature lovers, readers of creepy, surreal, horror, or mysterious books, books perfect for October.
This enchanting book follows main character Martin via a mysterious, unknown and unreliable narrator. The reader meets Martin just as he’s come to a small town to build a housing complex in the woods nearby, and he lives in a trailer next to Gil, a retired hunting guide. He learns of the legend of Scratch, a strange, shape-shifting creature in the forest whose presence many blame for people’s disappearances, until someone actually goes missing. What happens next as Martin’s dreams become more and more surreal and indistinguishable from reality is dark, philosophical, and completely unexpected.
Himmer does a lot with the legend of Scratch and expertly so, weaving magical realism, supernatural wilderness, and the thrill of a nature horror novel together to create this captivating story. He sets up the story well, and though at moments it gets slow and may disappoint readers more accustomed to traditional horror, the imagery captures expertly the psychological darkness Martin experiences in the forest at night. Though Martin is not particularly the most likeable character, through Himmer’s stunning prose the reader is transported to the forest too, experiencing all the uncomfortable sensations Martin is going through right along with him.
This is an intriguing, beautiful tale of the mysteries of nature—particularly the forest—and mankind’s role amongst the creatures who make the woods their home. Part literary, part noir, part horror, Scratch is gripping tale of perfection that will thin the line between man and beast and leave you wanting more.
Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy from the publisher Curbside Splendor via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.