Evil Stalks the Night by Kathryn Meyer Griffith [Review]
I like nothing better than to sit down with a well written story by Stephen King or H.P Lovecraft (my two main influences as a writer) have them try to scare me on a quiet night alone. When Kathryn Meyer Griffith sent me a copy of her novel Evil Stalks the Night to review early last month, she mentioned that her own writing influences are these very same legends — with that in mind, how could I say no? It ended up being a worthwhile decision, because Evil Stalks the Night emulates the tropes and styles of these authors very well and, aside from some uneven writing here and there and a premise that’s a little familiar at first, I found it to be a quite enjoyable read.
Evil Stalks the Night, first published long ago in 1984 and recently reprinted in ebook formats by our shared publisher Damnation Books, is a fairly traditional supernatural horror story in the vein of classic Lovecraft and the earlier works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The setup is rather typical for the genre: at the age of ten, protagonist Sarah Towers and her brothers encounter a hostile entity in the woods on the outskirts of the mid-western town of Suncrest. Some sinister things happen, involving some neighbourhood children going missing, and Sarah and her family are forced to re-located elsewhere. Decades later, after suffering through a bitter divorce, Sarah, now a famed psychic after the events of her childhood, returns to her hometown with her son Jeremy to take up residence in the abandoned townhouse left to her by her parents. Here, she discovers that the town is still terrorised by whatever’s hiding in the woods, and she must try to figure out what it is and how to destroy it before it kills her and and her son.
Despite this sounding quite like something you’ve read before (a protagonist with psychic powers, ghosts and spirits, a hostile entity preying upon young children and a sleepy country town with a dark past), Evil Stalks the Night is still a worthwhile horror story, thanks to a menacing atmosphere and a solid mystery. The “monster” in the woods is handled quite well: it’s kept deliberately mysterious until the end (in traditional Lovecraftian fashion) and there’s ample foreshadowing about its true nature that serves to both help the reader use their own imagination and play with their expectations simultaneously. Although the ending turns out to be a little predictable, there’s a lot to like about the journey itself and Evil Stalks the Night captures the “feel” of a Lovecraft story or one of Stephen King’s earlier novels (particularly Salem’s Lot, which I kept being reminded of, for some reason) excellently.
One of the reasons that Evil Stalks the Night reminded me of Stephen King is its characters. Kathryn Meyer Griffith is very skilled at writing believable and endearing characters — Sarah acts naturally throughout the story and one can’t help but care about her. Her conversations with her siblings and child are very fluid and expressive, and her psychic powers are used as a way to further explore the novel’s mystery and its connection to her, rather than just as a static character trait or (worse) a means to shoehorn in scary scenes involving ghosts, as seems to typically happen in stories like this that I’ve read. Anyone who likes character driven horror should find Evil‘s characters enjoyable to read about, though they do sometimes seem a bit stale (mainly because of their use of outdated pieces dialogue conventions that would have seemed natural when the book was first released in 1984, but don’t now).
Unfortunately, there are some elements of Evil Stalks the Night that deserve some criticism, though these are mainly due to the book’s age and the fact that this is the first of (apparently) sixteen novels that Kathryn Meyer Griffiths has written, and I would assume that she has grown tremendously as a writer since this book was completed. As mentioned earlier, the novel uses many familiar genre tropes that we’ve seen too many times to count in other supernatural horror stories by now. While this ultimately doesn’t make the book less enjoyable, the opening in particular would have benefited from a more original hook and a slightly faster pace. Additionally, several parts of the book suffer from grammatical errors (more of the editor’s fault than the author’s though) and there are a handful of passages that read awkwardly or are overwritten. Again, these are likely due to the author’s inexperience at the time, though they do stand out (at least to a meticulous proofreader like me).
In the end, the strengths of the book are enough to cover up its handful of weaknesses. I had the pleasure of reading Evil Stalks the Night just in time for Halloween, and I didn’t regret it. It’s fairly cheap but also quite a lengthy read that kept me busy for quite some time, and there’s enough creepy stuff packed into its pages to satisfy any supernatural horror fan. If you’re looking for some solid, well written horror to see you through a lonely night, grab a copy. You won’t be disappointed.