Crestwood Lake by Mark R. Vogel (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2015)

It's that time of year when the sun sets early and the rustle of autumn leaves scattering across sidewalks in the dusk makes us hurry to get inside our cozy homes. The goblins of our imaginations lurk among the jack o' lantern lit darkness. This is the time of year when readers, who love the masters of horror going back to Edgar Alan Poe, seek authors to titillate that aspect of ourselves that loves to be scared witless. If this description of autumnal literature appeals to your ghoulish side, take a look at Crestwood Lake penned by local author Mark A. Vogel.

The town of Crestwood Lake, located in Northern Vermont, is known to have been the site of eerie events and mysterious and often bloody deaths since its establishment in 1713 by a group of Puritans who have fled the infamous Salem to create their own haven . . . for evil intent.

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The main character, Captain Butch Morgan, Chief of Police, and recent widower, is faced with solving a number of grisly murders that are escalating in number and gore. His investigation into the crimes lead him to the door of the prissy wine shop that has just opened in town, replacing the down home liquor store that had served the town for a long time. We learn that the previous proprietor, Ron Millhouse, had met an untimely end, with his body having been found severed on a railroad track, leaving the town forced to contend with a store that doesn't carry beer or vodka.

The owner of the new wine shop, filled ceiling to floor with expensive wines from all over the world, “stood over six feet. He looked older, maybe about seventy, but didn't seem or act the slightest bit infirm. Rather, he exuded an aura of formidability. His hair was white and flawlessly combed back. His clean-shaven face was somewhat chiseled with a strong jaw line. His eyes were imposingly dark brown, so near black that each iris and pupil practically merged into one large orb. They were fathomless and seemed to pierce whatever they peered at.” (p. 39) Austere in a black, three piece suit, with a white shirt and blood red tie, it would be hard not to picture Vincent Price cast in the role of Luther Van Haden, who will become a nemesis for Morgan to engage with in an epic battle between good and evil.

Morgan has fallen in love with a local waitress, Vicki Larson, but is taking his time in declaring his feelings for her, being respectful of her own traumatic past. However, when Morgan begins to realize the depths of evil that he must take on to save his town before everyone is doomed, he is forced to put Vicki, as well as others close to him, at incredible risk.

Vogel takes a favorite theme of horror writers (I reference Stephen King and Dean Koontz here), the “bad place.” This is one of my personal favorites in the creation of horror writing because it is so universal. All of us can think of a place we deemed as a “bad place,” from childhood into adult hood. Did you like going into the basement of your house when you were a kid? I didn't. Does the Timberline Lodge ring a bell (The Shining), or perhaps the memory of the peeling house on a hill owned by the Bates family of motel fame? “The bad place” is where really bad, inexplicable stuff happens to people. Crestwood Lake fits neatly into the framework of a “bad place” novel, and Vogel is careful to furnish his readers with the history that made the land evil.

One of the other tricks of the horror trade is to make the reader react viscerally to what he sees, smells, touches, and tastes. Vogel really works the sensory details, particularly early in the novel. Vogel introduces us to a variety of hapless victims, who tell their vignettes in the first person narrative; that is until something, let us say unusual, happens to them. In the case of the first narrator, a Mr. Burke, who has purchased an old house from Gil Pearson, Burke cannot get a noisome smell out of his house no matter what he tries.

The first time that Burke notices the smell, he is cooking a beef stew “when I caught a whiff of something fetid.” (p. 5) A week later, while reading a book Burke tells us, “that same odor that fouled my stew, the smell of decomposition . . . the smell of death,” (p. 6) has returned. From then on, the odor pervades every room of the house, and nothing Burke does masks that smell. Burke is just one of many characters who face the challenges of living a town that is harrowingly haunted.

 

Crestwood Lake is a solid first novel, with the promise of more to come. If you are looking for a novel to get into the Halloween season, Crestwood Lake may be the ticket.