The Turtle Boy, by Kealan Patrick Burke

The Turtle Boy, by Kealan Patrick Burke book coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Necessary Evil Press
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by Jeff Edwards

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The summer of ’79 has just begun in Delaware, Ohio, promising months of idle fun. But when Timmy Quinn and his best friend stumble across a stranger at Myers Pond – a frightening child they call “The Turtle Boy” – their summer break turns deadly.

In The Turtle Boy, Kealan Patrick Burke masterfully recreates that magical time from childhood: summer vacation. To this reviewer – who spent many pleasant summers blazing trails through the woods and engaging in mock battles by the creek with friends – Burke’s writing rings true and evokes a welcome sense of nostalgia. More than a simple trip down memory lane, the short novel pulls readers along a dark path toward horrifying events.

Burke enriches his already strong prose with vivid imagery. He subtly adds menace to the story with his descriptions of the landscape (“To their left, blank-faced white houses stood facing each other, their windows’ glaring eyes issuing silent challenges…To the right, hedges reared high, the tangles of weeds…occasionally gathered at the base of the gnarled trees upon whose palsied arms leaves hung as an apparent afterthought”) before he introduces the disfigured Turtle Boy (“His eyes were cold dark stones…[His] head looked like a rotten squash beaten and decorated to resemble a human being’s and his mouth could have been a recently healed wound…or a burn…The boy grinned a grin of ripped stitches”).

After his powerful start, however, Burke falters slightly. Timmy’s friendship with a neighborhood girl progresses too quickly: hours after being forced to spend time together, they are holding hands, and Timmy finds that he “welcomed the contact.” He thinks, “Does this mean she’s my girlfriend?” Granted, their bond is forged in the face of danger, and the novel’s short length doesn’t allow for more leisurely character development. Although the story becomes mired in a patch of human melodrama near the end, Burke tries hard to keep the surreal and the supernatural at the forefront – he introduces the shifting realities of The Curtain and The Stage, concepts that he will surely revisit in future stories.

A character in the book says, “The living have enough to worry about these days without the dead coming back to complicate things.” Readers, however, will likely welcome such complications in Kealan Patrick Burke’s future work. He promises more stories featuring Timmy Quinn, including a short novel called “The Hides” from Cemetery Dance Publications and a novelette titled “Vessels” in the upcoming anthology “The Black Book: Volume One” from Oblivion Press.

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