The Sound of Midnight
Charles L. Grant | Popular Library | 1978 | 221 pages
Following the shocking drowning death of one of her young customers, toy-store owner Dale Bartlett plunges into a supernatural conspiracy in her small town of Oxrun Station.
Happening upon a horrific scene during her lunch break at the town pond, Dale discovers a ring of children standing around the drowned corpse of Willy Campbell. The police seem strangely suspicious of her account, and seem to hint at something other than an accidental drowning. Returning to her store, Dale finds a strange note, possibly left earlier that morning, “Please be in the park today so I can see you and tell you something.”
Dale later witnesses another horrible tragedy involving the Campbell family. After dropping off a hand-carved chess set for Dale to sell in her store, Willy’s father, Dave, is killed in an unusually explosive, singe-car crash across the street from her shop window. Following the accident, Dale discovers another note left for her on the counter, “Miss Bartlett, we missed you at the park.”
Dale and her fiancé Vic, responding to a strange remark made from Dave Campbell just before his death concerning the mythology of the chess figures he carved, begin an investigation to uncover the cause of the growing number of deadly incidents plaguing their small town. An amusing reflection on the (now seemingly unthinkable) days before the Internet, their investigation begins in the card catalogue at the local library–probably under “O” for “Occult”. Paging through piles of mythological tomes on the library tables, they begin to grasp the supernatural forces at work.
Flirting with some familiar themes involving sinister children and pagan rituals, The Sound of Midnight delivers enough evil-lurking-in-the-small-town genre thrills to sustain an atmosphere of dread. Dale’s paranoia is fueled by children’s misbehavior towards her elderly shop assistant, unusually harried and subservient parents in town, and repeated visits from, what should have been, grieving family members. Ultimately, a fear of newcomers underlines the story, with the (relatively) new arrivals in town interrupting the staid atmosphere of the established townspeople, their old beliefs providing the source of terror in an otherwise homogeneous New England community.
A weak attempt at a “Gotcha!” ending invokes the specter of Carrie White referenced in the cover’s blurb (“A pack of children more horrifying than CARRIE!”). Instead of a dead hand thrusting free from beneath the grave, a small hand reveals a hidden chess piece, but the standard give-them-one-last-shock message remains the same—Dear God, no, it’s not over!