You’ve heard of Christmas in July. This is Halloween in June. Jennifer McMahon’s “Burntown” is a supernatural mystery that takes place in the small Vermont college town of Ashford.
Eva Sandeski’s father is a professor of sociology and an amateur tinkerer who makes splendid geared toys and has even put together a machine for talking to the dead from plans supposedly stolen from Thomas Edison’s workshop. And it is this machine that brings ruin on Eva’s family when her father and older brother Errol are drowned in a flash flood and she and her mother are homeless and on the run from a man known only as Snake Eyes.
Eva and her mother are taken in by a group of older ladies called the Fire Eaters for the psychotropic red snuff they use to experience visions for themselves and others. They live in a shanty encampment under a bridge in the seedy side of Ashford, Burntown. Eva, now known as Necco for her favorite candy, grows up here and on the streets. When her boyfriend is killed, and then her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she realizes that Snake Eyes is real and that he is near.
Necco must keep all her wits about her if she hopes to survive a monster from her past — a past she remembers differently than how it may really have been.
McMahon is an engaging writer — events unfold quickly and the suspense is high throughout her narrative. Great summer — or Halloween! — reading. Some language and sexual situations.
‘Gwendy’s Button Box’
One reviewer of Ms. MaMahon’s book calls her style “reminiscent of Stephen King,” but even more reminiscent of the master of suspense is Stephen King’s actual new book. Written with Richard Chizmar, “Gwendy’s Button Box” is the story of Gwendy Peterson, a young girl whose life is forever changed when she meets a man all dressed in black.
In the summer between elementary and middle schools, Gwendy climbs Castle Rock, Maine’s “Suicide Stairs,” every day to get rid of some grade-school chubbiness so Frankie Stone and his creepy friends will quit calling her Goodyear. At the top of the stairs she meets Mr. Farris, who talks her into talking to him, although he is a stranger.
He gives her a box with buttons on it — different colored buttons for each continent, a red button for whatever she wants, and a black button that must never be pushed.
Gwendy soon slims down significantly because the button box gives her a tiny piece of chocolate every day that completely satisfies her cravings. It also dishes out mint condition Henry Morgan silver dollars, which will eventually pay her way to college. Her grades improve without much studying and she is soon the star athlete of middle school and then high school.
A classic tale of accidental soul-selling to the devil, you think? But there is much more to Gwendy’s button box than this, and therein lies the tale — suspenseful, imaginative, marvelously descriptive with King and Chizmar’s spot-on prose.
Need a little chill to cool off these hot summer days? Gwendy may do the trick.