It is a mystery, set in a small upstate New York town, a town that is quiet, dull, even, has a nearby college, and all in all seems like a lovely place to live. That is, until the teenage girl disappeared on her way home one Halloween afternoon.
The town went into panic mode, and after a few days, when there were no clues, no indications of any kind what had happened to her, a group formed to continue the investigation on their own, and to provide neighborhood safety.
When the second teenage girl disappeared, panic scaled up into hysteria, and what seemed to be a traditional mystery story of a possible serial killer turns into the story of a town for whom everyone was a suspect and no one was without blame.
Once people were suspected, and there were also others, it was hard to get them unsuspected.
When the third girl goes missing, we, the readers as well as the townspeople, are combing the minute facts for some kind of hint, some kind of pointer that maybe we had missed the first two times around.
Told in the first person narrative of an unmarried male science teacher at the high school, who conveniently enough is the ear for all of the main players in the drama, kind of like Nick in The Great Gatsby, we eventually are introduced to a subtheme, the existence of a gay community in the town. And when one of that community’s more flamboyant characters is found murdered, things start to get really scary for the townsfolk. Who is next? And why?
Three missing girls whose desiccated bodies are later found in an attic, each sitting primly in a chair, lined up, dressed in homemade velvet dresses to which stars and moons and suns and other figures had been pasted. They also wore cheap jewelry. And the chairs were homemade and covered with the shiny tops of tin cans or round red reflectors of the bottoms of class bottles. Strips of tinsel hung from the ceiling, And there were hundreds of candles. It was like a church, and the bodies like the statues of adoration in a house of worship — a church of dead girls.
Great writing style. We readers could feel we knew this solitary, geeky (or is it nerdy) middle aged guy, and were privy to the action just as he was.
So who did it? Who killed all those people? Who needed a church of dead girls? After the second disappearance, we are pretty certain it was not some mysterious stranger passing through town. It was one of the townspeople. Had to be, right? But who? Thus the suspicion. Thus the fear.