A once-respected college professor and novelist, Dale Stewart has sabotaged his career and his marriage -- and now darkness is closing in on him. In the last hours of Halloween he has returned to the dying town of Elm Haven, his boyhood home, where he hopes to find peace in isolation. But moving into a long-deserted farmhouse on the far outskirts of town -- the one-time residence of a strange and brilliant friend who lost his young life in a grisly "accident" back in the terrible summer of 1960 -- is only the latest in his long succession of recent mistakes. Because Dale is not alone here. He has been followed to this house of shadows by private demons who are now twisting his reality into horrifying new forms. And a thick, blanketing early snow is starting to fall ...
The old saw "You can't go home again" is a chilling understatement for this highly effective supernatural shocker, Simmons's first horror novel since Fires of Eden (1994) and a sequel to Summer of Night (1991). The latter was an eerie chronicle of a summer of lost innocence for a group of preadolescent chums who confront an entity of irrepressible evil in rural Elm Haven, Ill. Four decades later Dale Stewart, a survivor of that summer, has returned to endure a winter of adult discontent: his wife has left him, his sideline career as a novelist is sputtering and a disastrous love affair has driven him to attempt suicide. Medicated to the gills for depression, Dale seeks inspiration for his next novel in a house that figured in events of the summer of 1960. But remnants of the old malign influence have survived and they manifest as vicious spectral dogs, threatening neo-Nazi punks, cryptic messages that appear magically on his computer screen and delusions that suggest he's losing his mind. Simmons orchestrates his story's weird events craftily, introducing them as unremarkable details that only gradually show their dark side. In a nod to Henry James, whose psychological ghost story "The Jolly Corner" is repeatedly invoked, he blends jaw-dropping revelations of spiritual intrusion with carefully manipulated challenges to the reader's confidence in Dale's faculties and motivations. Though it features its share of palpable things that go bump in the night, this novel is most unsettling in its portrait of personal demons of despair that imperceptibly empower them.