Review by Tom Piccirilli
Jack Durkin is the ninth generation caretaker of Lorne Field, a clan contracted for over three centuries to weed the land of bloodthirsty Aukowies, evil sentient plants that could destroy the world if left to grow uncontrolled. As a firstborn son Jack has spent the last thirty years waging a lonely battle, following the rules set down by his forefathers. Now that his own firstborn son Lester is about to come of age, Jack is ready to train someone else to take his place. But Lester, Jack’s long-suffering and resentful wife, Lydia, and most of the other townsfolk don’t believe in the old tales, especially since one of the rules put forth in the contract is that nobody else is permitted to set foot in Lorne Field.
Is Jack an honorable savior of humanity or is he just a slave to his own family history and foolish superstitions? And is his relentless belief in his professional duty a sign of nobility or insanity?
Leaving behind the hardboiled fiction of his earlier novels Small Crimes, Pariah, and Killer, Dave Zeltserman enters the horror genre full-force and on the run. As with his previous plotlines, the author knows how to pile on the hardships and ratchet up the tension until only the most desperate measures will do. Jack not only loses the support of most of the townsfolk, his friends, and his family, but the documents that he turns to in his time of need can’t give him the answers he requires. All he’s left with is an overwhelming, and possibly misplaced, faith that he’s needed in a world that’s passed him by.
Zeltserman has great fun playing in the gray area of ambiguity as the novel progresses. At first Jack surrounded by enough of his fellow believers for us to take it as a given that he’s battling back a breed of man-eating weeds. But as Jack loses his support system, and more and more chinks begin to show in his emotional armor, we watch as he goes from a hardworking devotee to a broken, starved, embittered man driven by pure stubbornness. And since gruff and crotchety Jack is an unsympathetic and remote protagonist right from the start, the reader is forced to question exactly what makes a hero, and how long should we cheer such an unlikable one on?
It’s a bold move for the author to make, but one that pays off big in the end. With his easy-reading narrative and skill at constantly forcing the reader to grow more and more involved in Jack Durkins’s plight, The Caretaker of Lorne Field starts off as a speedy story and soon becomes gut-clencher that might give you whiplash from turning the pages so fast.