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Chasing the Boogeyman Is Genre-Bending Genius

"😵 Serial Killer 🔪" by koen_jacobs is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Richard Chizmar has created a genre-bending work of metafiction with his novel, Chasing The Boogeyman. Chizmar’s book is to horror literature what found footage films is to horror movies. Chasing The Boogeyman is a fictitious horror tale told in the format of a true-crime book. As a fan of horror with an interest in true crime, I couldn’t wait to get into the story. I had never seen a horror story told using this format. Chasing The Boogeyman didn’t let me down.

Chizmar casts himself as the main character/narrator of the story which is set in his real-life hometown of Edgewood, Md. Chizmar flashes back to the summer of 1988. At the start of the story, Chizmar is a  22-year-old struggling writer and recent college graduate. He returns to his childhood home to stay with his parents. He’s spending a few months there while his fiance finishes her undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins University. The two plan to be married in January. Chizmar is also in the process of launching a horror-themed literary magazine, Cemetery Dance (which he did in real life).

Chizmar creates suspense at the start of the book. The reader is told that what we are about to read is an updated version of a true crime book that Chizmar published in 1990. We’re told that we’re about to read the story of a series of murders that took place in Edgewood and that the killer wouldn’t be found until many years later. This doesn’t spoil the story but creates more suspense.

Chizmar’s arrival in Edgewood coincides with the murder of a local girl, 15-year-old Natasha Gallagher. Chizmar went to high school with her brother, Joshua. While he knew the Gallaghers, he wasn’t friends with them. Over the next four months, from June 2, 1988, to Oct. 31, 1988, four girls ages 16 to 18, are found dead. All are residents of Edgewood. Their bodies are found dumped nearby with the left ear cut off and missing. All of the girls, except for Natasha, were sexually assaulted. No evidence is left behind and these girls all vanished into thin air. Natasha is taken from her bedroom, another girl happened to be left alone a few minutes to wait for a friend, one girl is taken from her driveway late at night, and another who was dropped off right in front of her house on Halloween night. This is why the killer is given the moniker, “The Boogeyman.”

A foggy tree-lined street at night.
“Morning fog” by SalTheColourGeek is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Chizmar, who has always had a fascination with horror and true crime, finds himself getting involved in the case. He becomes friends with a local reporter, Carly Albright, who happens to be a childhood friend of his fiancee, Kara. Carly provides Chizmar with some information left out of the press. She tells him about some odd clues that the killer left behind. Much to the dismay of local police, Richard and Carly begin their investigation. He evens takes part in a search party for one of the victims. He finds himself passing by the victims’ houses and memorials that are set up in town for each girl. He and Carly feel that they’re being stalked. Richard receives mysterious phone calls. The entire town is thrown into panic mode with neighbors accusing each other, supposed sightings of the killer, and other theories including satanic cults and even supernatural creatures.

Before delving into the horrific murders, Chizmar familiarizes the reader with the small town he grew up in. He gives a thorough historical background of Edgewood as well as very vivid descriptions of the people he grew up with. He waxes nostalgic at many points throughout the story and includes entertaining anecdotes. These parts of the story aren’t out of place but add an interesting dimension to it. Chizmar’s anecdotes about his childhood and the people in town that he grew up with add more realism to the story. His antics resemble those of kids that I knew. The people of Edgewood are relatable and sound like neighbors that I, or probably anyone else, can recall growing up with. The reader can’t help but sympathize and feel the horror felt by residents of the town as each murder is discovered. I found myself analyzing the clues with him and got lost in the story as if it were real. Unfortunately, things like this do happen in real life. If you’re familiar with true crime, you’ll find that Chizmar’s story unfolds in much the same way as many other serial killer cases do in real life.

For any horror fan, there’s a bonus. Chizmar makes several references to classic horror films and authors throughout the book—Halloween, Jaws, and many references to Stephen King. In real life, Chizmar coauthored a novella with King, Gwendy’s Button Box (2017). 

Chizmar’s prose is vividly descriptive. Just a few strokes with his pen run draws a clear picture of whoever he’s talking about. He creates suspense by giving the reader just enough clues to get your brain cells pumping. The story builds up to a conclusion that is surprising, but not shocking. Thinking back to the book, the clues are there but they’re not too obvious. The ending isn’t a shock that comes out of nowhere but also isn’t predictable.

A shot of a grassy area marked off like a crime scene with yellow cards marking off where evidence has been found. Two people stand in the background. Only their feet are visible.
“FBI Honolulu Adopt-a-School: Students Process Mock Crime Scene” by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Chasing the Boogeyman is a frightening scenario with some grotesque descriptions. Chizmar has a knack for grotesque description that will imprint a very frightening picture in your mind that you won’t be able to get rid of. His depiction of serial murder in a small town is convincing enough to cause the reader to sympathize with Chizmar’s 22-year-old self as well as the terrified residents of Edgewood.

I haven’t read any of Chizmar’s other work but would like to. He knows how to bring a story to life on the page with relatable characters and successfully blends fantasy and reality. He’s written a compelling tale of a small town, which could be any town in America—or the world for that matter in the grip of a predator. The Boogeyman can strike anytime, anywhere, and leaves no evidence. Chismarz’s story is compelling, poignant, nostalgic, gripping, and suspenseful. I hated having to put it down. Chasing The Boogeyman is a must-read for any horror or true crime lover.

Chasing the Boogeyman is set for release on Aug. 17, 2021. Links are available to pre-order at the author’s website.

According to richardchizmar.com, Chizmar is the editor and publisher of Cemetery Dance magazine and owner of Cemetery Dance Publications. His collaboration with Stephen King, Gwendy’s Button Box, spawned two sequels, Gwendy’s Magic Feather (2019) written by Chizmar, and Gwendy’s Final Task, also written in collaboration with Stephen King, coming in 2022. Chizmar has written screenplays for many film companies including United Artists and Showtime. He has published many short stories and has served as editor of 35 anthologies. He’s won four International Horror Guild awards, two World Fantasy awards, and the Horror Writers’ Association Board of Trustees award. 

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Written by Melissa Bastek

I've had a longtime love of horror and the paranormal --- in both books and film. I enjoy writing fiction as well as researching the stories behind my favorite films and books. I also have an interest in true crime and forensic science and psychology. Besides fiction, I like to watch documentaries --- everything from behind-the-scenes about a film to true crime cases.

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