We Read Dead People: MOONBOG

Welcome to We Read Dead People, where authors Stephanie Kuehn (Charm & Strange, When I Am Through with You) and Daniel Kraus (Rotters, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch) read a novel from the glory days of direct-to-paperback horror—the magnificent 1980s—and determine whether it was worth the suggested retail price.

Things are a boggy mess in Holland, Maine. Hometown-boy-made-good David returns to Holland to deal with an estate he now owns, with fancy NYC model girlfriend Allison in tow. While he makes inroads with his estranged uncle, Marshall, Holland is disturbed by a rash of 12-year-old boys going missing in the local bog and, in some cases, being found ripped apart. Is it some kind of crazy bog-beast?!? Spoiler: no. It’s local yokel Les Rankin, who gets off (this means what you think it means) by murdering little boys. Good gravy. Let’s dive into the muck with Rick Hautala’s Moonbog (Zebra, 1982).

For the first time, we’re joined by a special guest: Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and (most relevant today) Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction.

DK: Welcome Grady Hendrix to our sad little dusty corner of the internet, and congrats on the cool book. Also congrats to Steph, whose new book, When I Am Through with You, came out this week, yes?

SK: Last week.

DK: Ah, damn it. I’m the worst.

SK: We can pretend it’s today!

DK: Let’s just move on. I am so glad we’re finally getting to this discussion because I need to destroy my copy of Moonbog. Why? BECAUSE IT’S CRAWLING WITH BUGS. I mean that literally. My paperback has bugs in it. I had to put it in a ziplock bag.

SK: Wait. It came with bugs or were they acquired through contact with you?

DK: Very funny. When I told my colleague, she told me to put it in the freezer. To kill the bugs. Note: the bugs did not die.

GH: What kind of hell-bugs are these?

DK: I don’t know, little tiny brown bugs. Bog Bugs? Grady, in your collecting for Paperbacks from Hell, you ever come across bug infestation?

GH: Never bugs. But a previous reader took a knife to the cover of my Moonbog and gouged spirals in it.

SK: Back when we read Cat’s Eye, my copy had a used tissue in the middle. So.

DK: Grady, usually we start with a six-word summary of the book, so fire away.

GH: I had a really hard time with that. Sorry! I did a haiku instead. Is that okay?

DK: No. We had one rule, Grady. Here’s mine: Swamp Lacks Monster, Has Boys Aplenty.

SK: Mine: There’re 57 Mentions Of Spring Peepers.

DK: Now that we’ve shamed Grady, let’s start at the start: despite a book cover with a monster arms emerging from a swamp, there is no monster in this book. I was promised a four-fingered, green-fleshed monster!

GH: Zebra was one of the houses where the cover artists often didn’t bother to read the manuscript.

DK: And to skip to the end, what’s weird about this book is that there is an obvious suspect. . . and then it turns out that the obvious suspect is, in fact, the killer.

A peeper

SK: I swear I knew the damn peepers were the murderers and then no.

DK: What the hell is a “peeper”?

SK: A tiny tree frog!

GH: I thought with all the sodomy, “peepers” might be referring to voyeurs.

DK: You guys clearly want to take the elephant in the room by the trunk (can I say that?), so let’s just get it over with. Anyone care to explain the, uh, icky parts?

SK: Not me. It was terrible. I wanted to unread that kid’s murder.

GH: This is what I’m paid for: So there’s a killer, Les, who repeatedly finds children who’ve been abandoned in Holland Bog by other children and then he sodomizes them, and guts them at the moment of his orgasm before dragging their corpses around aimlessly until someone sees him.

DK: What makes it ickier is Hautala’s inclination to keep coming back to this kind of scene. Notably, there are spankings. Oh, are there ever spankings.

GH: Whuppins, whippings, beltins. In my mind’s eye, Holland, Maine, is a giant bog full of naked, dead little boys with a spooky old house rotting away at one end of town and the Sawmill bar full of potential rapists at the other end of town.

DK: By my calculation, the town was 85% 12-year-old boys.

GH: 28% peepers.

SK: It was over 50% peepers. I counted.

GH: Moonbog is one of a slew of horror novels post-Salem’s Lot that took all the wrong lessons from Salem’s Lot. In King’s book everyone was a jerk—even the milkman hated milk—and then they all got eaten by vampires. That led to a ton of books like this where everyone is just a raging jerkwad.

DK: Even the Milkman Hated Milk: My Look at Salem’s Lot, by Grady Hendrix

SK: I didn’t mind the characters being dicks, but the story wasn’t horror. It wasn’t scary or suspenseful. There’s not much tension. It’s just a story with some awful graphic rape / murder / abuse scenes. It felt as if the author thought by simply having a graphic and upsetting scene, that was what made it horror. Oh, and why was Dave’s mom sleeping with Dave’s uncle referred to as “incest”?

DK: It was mentioned later that it was technical incest. Not my favorite type of incest, to be honest.

GH: I feel like when you have to say “technical” you’ve already lost the battle.

DK: Sentence by sentence, I think this is the best-written book we’ve read for We Read Dead People. Yet it was my least favorite. Like I said, you know who the killer is and he’s a terrible killer. Everyone knows Les has a gun. Everyone knows he called in sick and was spotted around town. Everyone knows he found a body where everyone else already looked. Everyone knows he has it out for Marshall.

GH: The attempts to conceal the body are half-assed. David’s pursuit of justice is half-assed. Harry Sumner’s real-estate plot is half-assed. Even the killer just waits until a kid stumbles into him before striking. Even the name of the killer—”the Bog Man”—was half-assed.

DK: Let’s talk about the best character in the book, if not all books: Allison. I mean, walking into our half-ass town is this bad-ass NYC model who is the only one intelligent enough to say out loud, “this town sucks.”

SK: She had the best pair of knockers.

GH: Yes, to quote David: “I just don’t want you thinking you’re the best set of knockers to hit this town.” I like that she just seemed to spend all day in the motel, and then David would come back just in time for her to blow a big lungful of smoke in his dumb face.

DK: Man, she really hated David, who was stupidly enamored with Bung Hill, or whatever the town’s name was. I was on her side every step of the way.

SK: Let me describe the bar scene with Les. Allison is bored of hanging around in their motel room all day, where Dave leaves her for hours on end. She heads to the Sawmill bar where she happens to run into our horrible child rapist/murderer Les, who’s getting drunk after hiding a kid’s body in the bog.

DK: Like you do.

SK: Les proceeds to hit on Allison (she’s got great knockers, yeah?) and she invites him to a corner booth and talks sexy to him, getting him all worked up. Then at some point, she unzips his pants and Les, who is clearly thinking that all will be good under that bar table, is horrified when she in fact grabs his manhood and yanks it really hard and laughs in his face.

GH: Then Les smashes his beer stein and threatens to slit her throat with it and Allison calls him a pig and says that if he’s still there when she gets back from cleaning up in the bathroom she’ll get him thrown out. She’s made of cold steel.

DK: It’s the best scene in the book. You have two characters at their most interesting, conflicting with each other. Although it’s not a good scene, I did enjoy how Marshall’s big plan to avoid being killed by Les wasn’t leaving town or anything. It was camping out in a creepy old abandoned house where they could be easily cornered and attacked.

SK: How hard would it’ve been to come up with a reasonable explanation for why Marshall couldn’t immediately implicate Les? It made no sense.

GH: Les’s pathology made no sense either. The backstory is that he played doctor with another little boy, got caught and whipped by his dad, and had an orgasm. Thirty years later, he murders small boys in a dangerous bog to get off. But. . . shouldn’t he be stabbing himself by that logic?

DK: Clearly you never were dad-whipped to orgasm. Moving on: I have a couple of style notes I wanted to get to. I don’t think Hautala had a real good handle on what I’ll call “kidspeak”. To wit:

“Sammy? ‘Sat you?”
“Im gonna’ tell Dad.” [No apostrophe in I’m? An apostrophe after gonna?]
“Please lemme’ go.”

GH: Welcome to the wonderful world of Zebra copy editing: random capitalization, misplaced commas, repetitive word use, uneven margins. Why do they constantly capitalize “Will” as in “last Will and testament”? And the constant use of the wrong word, like “chucking” when they mean “ducking.”

DK: Also, word repetition. To wit, and all within four pages:

This time there was a deep intensity in his voice. (p. 294)
. . . surprising even himself by the intensity in his voice. (p. 296)
The two men looked at each other with intensity (p. 297)
“Please,” David said, softly, intensely. (p.298)

GH: Holland, Maine: Our bogs are intense. And so are our men.

DK: I feel bad being harsh on this book because I made the mistake of looking up Hautala, and he seems to have been a stand-up guy with real cred in the horror world. Interestingly, his first book was called Moondeath and has nothing to do with this.

GH: Followed by Moonwalk.

SK: That was his brand!

DK: His big hit was Night Stone, which had one of the first holographic covers, hence turning it into a bestseller.

SK: Okay, I do love a holagraphic cover. Holographic?

DK: I think the sodomy scenes were a little holla-graphic. I can’t believe I just said that. All right, let’s wrap it up. Was Moonbog worth the $2.95 asking price?

GH: Not for me. I wanted a monster with drippy hands, and some kind of lunar tie-in. Instead I got hillbilly Peyton Place with too many peepers and not enough Allison.

SK: I was into it at first. I was sure something supernatural was going on with those peepers. I thought Dave was coming home to learn his family’s creepy bog legacy and maybe he’d eat children or something cool like that. But instead there was just some jarring and upsetting scenes of human violence and very little in terms of stakes or story. So no, I did not end up enjoying it.

DK: I’m going to say no, but with reservations. Again, I think Hautala had skills, and I bet he has some winners in his oeuvre. And I do, in a weird way, appreciate how uncomfortable this book is. That’s part of the reason we seek out books like this—we want to push limits of taste. Ultimately there were just too many flaws in logic. I said, intensely.


(These choices inspired by Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell!)




About the Author:

Dan Kraus was Booklist's Editor of Books for Youth. He is also the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielDKraus.

1 Comment on "We Read Dead People: MOONBOG"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Elizabeth Lee says:

    OK, I cheated and looked up the description on Goodreads. Brotherkind didn’t have one but it’s apparently the third in a series? And Below The line sounds like it isn’t nearly as interesting as the cover. So I’m voting for Heads because it’s probably unintentionally hilarious.

Post a Comment