I've never read a true crime book.

I've always felt that I was missing out. True crime fans are particularly fanatical readers. I tried, at least once. When Helter Skelter came out in paperback everyone with the mental capacity to read was in its grip. I bought it, thinking it would be right up my alley. I didn't get too far before jumping ship and going back to another novel. I guess I've always been a lot more attracted to imagination than reporting.

I have been a fan of the writing of Richard Chizmar for quite some time. I read his early collection, Midnight Promises, way back in 1996. I'm also, of course, a huge admirer of what he has done with his company, Cemetery Dance Publications. If there was one thing I did not like about CD, it was that it took away from Chizmar's own writing career. All that has changed in the past several years.

I shouldn't have to bring up the Gwendy books Chizmar and Stephen King have written. Or the short stories and novellas that have been steadily coming out. But now we have a full-fledged novel from Richard Chizmar.

Chasing the Boogeyman is a unique piece of writing. It's a fictional novel structured like a true crime book. This is not a completely original concept. At least one book comes immediately to mind: Jeff Rice's The Night Stalker reads exactly like an account of a horrifying investigation a journalist would write. Chizmar has the soul of a novelist and Chasing the Boogeyman is more artistic in nature than Rice's book.

Chizmar mixes in memoir and nostalgia into the mix of a serial killer in his hometown of Edgewood, Maryland. I'm a little bit older than he is, but the stories about his youth and the town he grew up in ring completely true to me. I'm an old Maryland boy too, having been born and partially raised just a few miles down the road from Edgewood.

The depictions of his town, his family, and his imaginative youth are the elements of Chasing the Boogeyman that moved me the most. Chizmar says that the stories and the people in the narrative are all authentic. He steers his story into the realm of fiction with the introduction of a serial killer.

Richard Chizmar becomes an active participant in the investigation of the murders that bring fear and horror to Edgewood. The question may arise: Why him? Why would a reader, a bookish guy like this man, be thrust into the furor?

The answer, I think, is that horror people, like Chizmar, like me, do a vicarious dance with death every day of our lives. People think we are crazy, but it's how we come to terms with many of the hard facts of life.

While all this is going on, Chizmar is creating his magazine, Cemetery Dance. I was hoping there would be more about it, like when he mentions reading through a slush pile. I was thinking, SLUSH PILE? WHO WAS IN THERE? I don't think the majority of readers of the book would be as interested in things like that as dedicated horror readers such as myself.

Chizmar is shooting for a much larger audience with Chasing the Boogeyman, and by all accounts he is finding it. This book is an astounding mesh of genres and the writing is breathtaking. It's scary, poignant, often funny, but never less than compelling.

Chasing the Boogeyman is certainly one of the best books of 2021. There is some stiff competition in and out of the horror genre, but I doubt I will find too many other books as rewarding as this one this year.

Written by Mark Sieber

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