Book Review: Until Summer Comes Around by Glenn Rolfe

“Throw in the coming-of-age angle, with all of the promise of a first true love, and Rolfe has delivered a horror novel with heart, soul, and bite”

 

Until Summer Comes Around by Glenn Rolfe - coverWhether you are in the mood for a ghost story (The Haunted Halls, Shadow Work Publishing, 2016) or “creature horror” (Becoming, Alien Agenda Publishing, 2017) or a werewolf tale (Blood and Rain, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2019) or just about any other sub-genre of horror, Glenn Rolfe has got you covered. Described as a “rising star in the genre” by Ronald Malfi, and “a vital part of this generation” by Brian Keene, Rolfe burst onto the scene with his debut novella Abram’s Bridge (Samhain Publishing, 2015) and hasn’t looked back—or stopped working—since. Striking up a great professional relationship with esteemed editor Don D’Auria at Samhain, it is no surprise to see his name feature in the Flame Tree Press roster with his highly anticipated new novel.

Set in the resort town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine in the Summer of 1986, we follow the story of fifteen-year-old Rocky Zukas as he discovers the magic of teenage love and the horror of an all-too-real monster. Full of that good old-time 80s nostalgia that readers of a certain age (this reviewer is amongst them) crave, from the colourful fashion to the classic 80s musical hits and the coin-op arcade machines that would eat all of your pocket money. Rolfe has said that Old Orchard Beach is a real place, somewhere he has visited often, and it shows in his depiction of the setting, adding depth to the story.

Just as the setting is easy to visualise as we read, so are the characters, especially our young protagonist. He gets on okay with his parents, only getting in minor trouble with a local police officer who over-reacted, and has a fairly good relationship with his older sister, Julie (even though he has a very low opinion of her boyfriend). There is a great deal of Rocky’s character that will undoubtedly resonate with those readers who belong to the same generation. The music he listens to. The conversations he shares with Axel, his cousin, before Axel leaves for England on a Summer vacation. The long glances he saves for young women walking on the beach. He exhibits the same characteristics and behaviour that many of us did as lovesick teenagers, no doubt capturing some of the author in the character as well.

When he literally runs into vacationing visitor November, he falls head over heels in love with the mysterious girl. He almost can’t believe his luck that someone so beautiful could have similar feelings for someone like him. But November is not without her own quirks. Not to mention the heavy emotional baggage she carries in the form of an over-bearing older brother, Gabriel. He assumes the role of brother and protector, taking to it with a little too much zeal. He wears all black, prefers to only come out at night (although he can come out during the day), and he has an insatiable appetite for death and destruction. Their family harbours a sinister secret that unravels wonderfully throughout the story, entangling Rocky and his family, as well as a long list of locals.

Rolfe doesn’t hold back when the blood begins to flow. The pages are dripping with it. There is no sense in trying to keep track of the body count once the attacks begin plaguing Old Orchard Beach; the only thing the reader can do is sit back and enjoy the deliciously dark carnage. Rolfe certainly seems to be enjoying creating so many different kills, just like the blood-splattered scenes of those classic horror movies of the same era. Indeed, as good as the scenes between Rocky and November are, and the depiction of the family relationships in the small town, when the action explodes and the killing takes centre stage, it feels like a slasher movie playing out on the big screen of our imaginations. Effectively intertwining such disparate threads to deliver one complete story is a brilliant achievement.

Therein lies the strength of this book; so many different themes and subjects brought together to give us something truly unique. As much as it is a horror story, exploring an old trope in a new way, no doubt dictated by the needs of the setting, it is also a nostalgic love letter to a time and place very dear to the heart of the author. As it is to many kids of the 80s. Throw in the coming-of-age angle, with all of the promise of a first true love, and Rolfe has delivered a horror novel with heart, soul, and bite. His most touching story to date is arguably one of his best, if not the best.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Ebook: 288 (pps)
Release Date: 21 May 2020

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