Monday, March 16, 2020

NIGHT CALLER by Daniel Ransom (Ed Gorman)

Ed Gorman is best remembered as a crime and western writer, but he wrote eight horror novels between 1986 (Toys in the Attic) and 1996 (Night Screams) using the pseudonym Daniel Ransom. The results were mixed; most are entertaining, but Gorman thought one of the books was so bad he wouldn’t allow a copy to cross the threshold of his home. The second Daniel Ransom novel, Night Caller (1987), is my favorite of Gorman’s Ransom novels for its perfectly cheesy 1980’s setting and its sharp plotting.

While vacationing in the Midwest with her teenage daughter, Jamie, Sally Baines’ car breaks down on a rural highway. A gentleman farmer gives them a ride into a nowhere town called Haversham. Their rescuer treats them well, but Sally is unsettled by the way he looks at Jamie, and later her unease grows when she sees the farmer pointing Jamie out to another townsperson. The two women check in to The Royal—Haversham’s only hotel—after the mechanic tells them the car won’t be ready until the next day. And when the sun goes down, things really get weird.

Night Caller is a small town horror with a smattering of Psycho and a dash of Stephen King. The characters are strange and amusing, especially a local doctor and a disgraced national television news reporter. The mother-daughter team of Sally and Jamie are easy to root for, and become more likable as the story unfolds. Ed Gorman, as he did with everything he wrote, adds a layer of mystery and ratchets the suspense with admirable craft. Night Caller is a hokey and fun light horror novel. It would make a perfect television movie—something similar to the campy-Stephen King television films made in the 1990s—but until an enterprising producer makes that happen, at least we have this appealing novel.

Night Caller was revised and reissued under the title The Girl in the Attic. I’ve never read the revised edition, but it’s available as an ebook and as an audio book.

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