There are holes in all our reading histories. I have some embarrassing blanks in mine, but I cannot believe I never read Joseph Citro before.

His books were everywhere in the '80s. You couldn't miss those dayglo covers. I made a point of reading just about every major writer in the field. Somehow it never happened.

I did read some nonfiction from Citro. He was an early Cemetery Dance Magazine columnist.

It's never too late to right wrongs. I recent obtained a used copy of his debut novel, Shadow Child.

The verdict? Not bad. Not bad at all.

The formula devices are all there. You have a man, and yes he's a fledgling writer, who moves back to his rural hometown after a tragedy. Horrific things occurred in his youth in the area. Now they are happening again. The horror has returned. And yes, there are children. Evil children.

In his defense, Citro helped create the small town horror stereotypes we talk about today. Shadow Child is permeated the the atmosphere of backwoods Vermont. The author obviously loves the area, and he depicts the woods, the population, and the small town ambiance with intimate knowledge and deep affection.

You can smell the air in Shadow Child. You could be a fly on the wall for the gas station gossip. The cold infiltrates your bones. And the horror is more graphic than many books of this nature.

The original title was the far superior Of Woman Born, but we all know how publishers love generic names for novels. The cover for the first Kensington edition has an evil clown that has absolutely nothing to do with the novel, but everything to do with a greasy attempt to emulate the success of the recently published It, from Stephen King.

Joseph Citro followed Shadow Child with half-a-dozen other horror titles in the eighties and into the early nineties, but things became difficult for midlist genre writers. He turned his love of writing and the bizarre into nonfiction books of ghostly folklore, and he continues writing them to this day. He's carved out a nice niche of Vermont legends for himself. The books appear to be quite popular.

If you yearn for a visit to Castle Rock but have read and reread all of King's books, if you crave a trip to Oxrun Station and have no more Charles Grant to enjoy, travel to the northeast in Joseph Citro's Haunted Vermont. It's a nice comfortable place far from the excesses of extreme fiction.

Written by Mark Sieber

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