Peter Smith is a patient at West Hills hospital. He has been there for nearly a decade. At the age of thirteen, his parents were brutally murdered and Peter was tortured to near death by his Halloween pumpkins. Killer pumpkins haunt his dreams and his doctor thinks he's delusional. Determined to turn his life around, he has eventually decided to join in with the Halloween festivities in the hospital and carves his first pumpkin. Will Peter survive the tenth anniversary of his parents' death? Or will his pumpkin be the death of him?
The original Revenge of the Pumpkins was the first I read by author Lacey Lane. It was a brief, entertaining and utterly brutal horror story that was the kind you might just like to hear on Halloween, but in truth the ending was so shocking that the memory lived with you long after the trick or treat had ended. It was a delight to see this new story - it is still novella length but much meatier than its predecessor.
We join Peter, the protagonist from book one (or antagonist, depending on which side you take) ten years after the events in story one. He's not been coping well. There's echoes of Danny from the Shining when it was revisited in Doctor Sleep, though it is not a direct comparison of the two. Revenge of the Pumpkins strength was also its slight weakness - being short and shocking was great, but left us wanting more, even though it was a complete story in itself. 'Return' allows the story and its characters to breathe a lot more, but the length carries along to another great climax.
The doctors in the psychiatric hospital do what they can to bring Peter to good health, but the nightmares of those slashing pumpkins terrorise him again and again. The interplay between the studious and almost pious Doctor Mitchell and the (un) wise cracking and roguish Doctor Tanner.
It is not as gory as its predecessor, which may disappoint some, but for me the gore factor and mild sexual content was well balanced and a good choice by the author (because most sequel rules infer more gore, more sex and so on).
Another pleasing factor is the balance between dialogue and narrative which is well done and doesn't really allow you to put the book down. Although told in third person it was easy to get into Peter's head, to see what he was going through, that the nightmares seemed like the true terror, not the vicious attacks he had been subjected to himself.
"There's echoes of Danny from the Shining."
People tend to slowly rebuild themselves in psychiatric wards. We are carried along Peter's journey, literally, as he recovers step by step, breath by breath. People may not be able to relate to Peter's situation as to why he is in the hospital in the first place, but they can relate to these things...fighting for breath....many of us have been there.
Some of the characters, like Nurse Giles, play a dual role of good cop / bad cop and again, it shows good character building even though our focus is distracted by the increasingly psychotic behaviour of Doctor Tanner. Peter's eyes cast over Sue, a light amongst the darkness. This is good for the reader too, as we hope these two might get together, as the worst of days are made better by the love of someone special.
Sue seems to play the role of a sex crazed nymph but it becomes clear that she likes Peter in lots of ways, and he is a little overawed that someone other than doctors is taking an interest in him. Sue initially hams up this role, but as she gets in deeper with Peter, the story shifts to whether or not they will ever be released from that hospital, or make their escape before the pumpkins make their eventual return.
The ending is shocking, clever and poignant. One hopes that this is not the end, but the beginning of an even better third slice of pumpkin.