I dislike the term, Paperbacks from Hell, to describe old horror books. To me it implies a derogatory note. A suggestion of generic sameness to them. Though most of the time when people bandy the phrase around they seem to be talking about some of the worst the horror fiction genre has ever known. I know the very successful book of the same name largely celebrates lousy horror.

That said, there were, are, and always will be trends and those who live by them. The current fad is Folk Horror, which seems to have usurped coming of age horror as the flavor of the day.

I've read the greats and I've slogged through some of the worst. One title I never got to is Kathryn Ptacek's Shadoweyes. I don't know how I missed it. There were used copies everywhere for a long time.

lands squarely in the middle of the spectrum. Ptacek knows how to write and she understands the construction of the novel. It's a pretty formulaic story that follows a template that engaged quite a few other writers of the time. Its plot is similar to better books, like Tom Monteleone's Night Things and Charles L. Grant's The Nestling. Grant was, by the way, married to Kathryn Ptacek.

The book opens with a bit of native American mumbo jumbo, only they called it Indian Lore at the time. I guess this could fall under the Folk Horror banner, if you feel the need to classify everything.

Victims are introduced and dispatched in various creative ways. A Native American has clues to what is going on with the bizarre deaths in the hot western town where the story is set. He pairs with a woman reporter who tries to uncover the small town political corruption that accompanies the supernatural shenanigans.

Ptacek is a good writer, but like some others I could name, she excels in the short form more than with novels. If you are hoping for in-depth characters to empathize with, Shadoweyes isn't your kind of story. They are all stereotypes.

However, if you are merely looking for a reasonably entertaining time, Shadoweyes is better than a lot of the other things coming out at the time. It's certainly more successful than something by Ruby Jean Jensen or William W. Johnson.

Not bad, but not particularly good, Shadoweyes might be a decent time-waster for the indiscriminate horror reader. The rest of us should aim a lot higher.

Written by Mark Sieber

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