Review of "Wicked Cruel" by Rich Wallace

Three short stories to scare the wits out of young and old alike

"Urban legends" — that's what author Rich Wallace calls the stories in his latest book, "Wicked Cruel" [Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99]. Released just in time for Halloween, the book takes creepy stories that get passed around by kids and turns them into well-told tales that get creepier by the page. The fact that they are tantalizingly plausible (that's what an urban legend is after all) makes them creepier yet.

In the first story, "Wicked Cruel," a boy who had been bullied dies and seems have come back to haunt his tormentors. In the second "The Horses of Brickyard Pond," a long-dead team of horses appears at opportune moments. And the last, "Rites of Passage," five children in one family die young — by murder or by accident we don't know — but one of them is not yet gone.

The stories are set in a place familiar to Granite Staters — Keene, renamed Cheshire Notch, "a place where kids grow up aware of the many spirits in their midst." You read about the Pumpkin Festival, Keene State College, the Wyman Tavern and the Colonial Theater, though they too are renamed.

"Wicked Cruel" is intended to be a children's book, but the themes it deals with — bullying, loneliness, guilt, atonement, life and death — are applicable to all ages.  

Kirkus Reviews gives "Wicked Cruel" a star and calls it "wicked good." It is good, especially when read by firelight on a cold Halloween night.


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