Title: Drummer Boy
Author: Scott Nicholson
Published: Haunted Computer Books (2010)
Genre: Horror; Southern Gothic
I've had Scott Nicholson's debut novel, The Red Church, sitting on my to-be-read pile since the start of the year--just one of many books that I've been meaning to read but have yet to get around to. So, when Scott contacted me to see if I'd be interested in reviewing one of his new novels, I had one of those moments where I looked at my bookshelf with a touch of shame. But I also leapt at the chance to read Drummer Boy, because the premise sounded unique in its approach to the resurgence of ghost stories.
Set in the little town of Titusville in North Carolina during a Civil War reenactment, three friends (Dex, Bobby, Vernon Ray) are hanging out in the woods next to a little cave known locally as the Jangling Hole, which is fabled to be where deserting soldiers from both sides of Stoneman's Raid (the famous battle to occur in the area) hid out to avoid the bloodshed. It doesn't take long for one of the boys to hear noises coming out of the darkness, which kicks off the inevitable emergence of a spirit or two--or more.
Now, I'm from a historically rich and vibrant province, here in Canada, but I'll bet our passion for reenactments pales in comparison to those guys down south.
Anyway--back on topic--Nicholson does a pretty good job in fleshing out the town and characters. Much like when I read his novella, Burial to Follow, it took no time at all to feel like I knew at least a couple of these characters from my own hometown. Redneck mentality seems to be universal, fictional or otherwise. The three boys play off a bit like a trio that didn't quite make the cut for the movie, Stand By Me, but they're likable. Vernon Ray, in particular, and his latent homosexuality plays a bit of a subplot, both as character development and building tension, as his father is one of the more gung-ho reenactors and a bit more culturally conservative than might be needed to embrace a gay son.
It's a ghost story blended with a coming-of-age tale, you might say. The phantoms that have been freed from their untimely tomb could have been a bit comical, as I've seen enough parodies of Civil War vets to have a fairly jaded view, but these ghosties aren't exactly comic relief. They're ready to do battle, and wouldn't you know there's a battle of sorts being reenacted nearby. And the converging of the past and the present and even the foreboding of the future, played out a bit with a land developer that plays an inadvertent role in helping the spirits rise again, all adds another welcome sublayer to this story.
While a ghost story probably doesn't strike you as original, this one manages to find its own niche thanks in large part to the backdrop and that good ol' Southern flavor. It'll likely take a second reading down the road to see how this one shapes up against my all-time favorite ghost stories, but for now I can comfortably recommend Nicholson's work to anyone willing to give it a chance.