Since his debut in 2004 with Fast Lane, Dave Zeltserman has received increasing recognition as an outstanding author of noir thrillers. He has since written five novels in quick succession and one recently released short-story collection, 21 Tales. His two most recent noirs, Pariah and Killer, illustrate not only his mastery of characterization, but also his creatively skewed spin on familiar noir tropes, a trait that makes all his books distinctly his own.
Zeltserman’s newest novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, arguably his first official foray into the horror genre, shows the author at the peak of his fever talent. Much like a macabre fable a parent might whisper to a child at bedtime, The Caretaker of Lorne Field takes a simple idea with timeless applicability and weaves a captivating tale. It is the story of Jack Durkin, a ninth-generation Durkin, all of whom have been sequentially contracted by a small town to clear Loren Field each day of weeds – weeds that, if left untended, will develop in eight days into Aukowies, immense monsters capable of destroying all mankind. Jack sees himself as the everyday savior of the world, but the unrelenting burden of responsibility and age have him anticipating his eldest son’s assumption of the job in a few short years. His son’s reluctance to accept his birthright and, indeed, the very idea of the Aukowies and the town’s dimming of memory and reverence for the Durkins’ duties merge to threaten, if Jack is right, the very fate of the world. But is he right, or a victim himself of a delusional legacy? Zeltserman thankfully sets aside opaque answers in the conclusion of the work in favor of Rod Serling-like clarity.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field has a wonderful mix of the tragic obsolescence of “Death of a Salesman’s” Willie Loman, the fantastical vision of Serling’s Twilight Zone, and the rural, gothic vibe of a Manly Wade Wellman tale. But along with this unique mishmash of themes and subtle undercurrents of humor and religiosity, it has a pulsing emotional core that immediately draws the reader in. One can’t resist becoming invested in the Caretaker’s obligatory plight and that of his family, particularly his sons, one of whom resists his preordained fate and another who believes in his father with the loving certitude that only a young child can have. Like the best parables, the thematic issues of the book bolster this emotional core and deliver both suspense and provocative insight into the human condition: the question of whether the plant-beings are real or imaginary; cultural tradition versus modernity; honoring familial obligation in an era of skepticism and opportunism; and the desperate plight of the individual against the oppressive intrusion of society. These and a host of other allegorical themes make Caretaker quite unlike any other book written, and yet as familiar as the lulling voice of a parent reading a bedtime fable…one who knows a whisper is often more frightening than a scream.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field, a slim 237-page volume with a thematic richness that belies its short page-count, is a work that is both fresh and unique. With his previous half-dozen books, Zeltserman has repeatedly answered those who wearily lament the tedious uniformity of much of genre fiction, and in Caretaker his voice has never been more compelling. Highly recommended.
— Reviewed by Ron Clinton