The followup to Jack Ketchum’s breakout debut, Off Season (1980), Hide and Seek (1984) is the story of Dan, Steven, Casey, and Kimberly, four young people who spend a frightening first half of summer together in the coastal Maine town of Dead River.
The story is told from the perspective of Dan, a town resident who has put off college to sell lumber. He meets the younger, three well-to-do friends at the beginning of summer, and eventually he falls in love with Casey.
In many ways Hide and Seek is more of a character portrait of Casey than of Dan, as we quickly become aware of her volatile personality (the reasons behind which are slowly revealed).
The first half of Hide and Seek is almost a dangerous love story. Casey, with her troubled past, stands as the enigmatic centerpiece of the narrative. Ketchum masterfully delves into the complexities of her character, using the serene backdrop of Dead River as a stark contrast to the chaos brewing within her.
The beauty of Hide and Seek lies in Ketchum’s ability to not only portray visceral horror, which he became renowned for in Off Season, but also the more subtle, psychological terror that emerges from human relationships and past traumas.
As the summer progresses, the narrative takes a darker turn. The idyllic setting and the initial romance make way for a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game, reminiscent of the titular childhood game, but with far graver consequences. The dynamics between the four central characters evolve, revealing secrets, allegiances, and betrayals.
Ketchum’s prose is, as always, tight and evocative, painting vivid images of both the external world of Dead River and the internal worlds of his characters. He draws the reader into the suffocating tension, making them complicit in the mounting dread. Hide and Seek is not just a horror story, but a tale of human frailty, love, and the darkness that sometimes lurks behind the most unsuspecting facades. It’s a testament to Ketchum’s prowess that he can blend gut-wrenching horror with poignant character studies, making this book another must-read for fans of the genre.
Ketchum paints his scenes in such a way that we sense, rather than see, horror existing in the background, while we involve ourselves in the relationship between Dan and Casey. I loved the first half of the story and thoroughly enjoyed their summer adventures, as the story slowly unwound.
The second half of the story kicks the horror and suspense into high gear when the four characters decide to play a game of hide and seek in an abandoned house. It isn’t clear once the scares start if we are reading a haunted house story or something else, and that uncertainty in itself is unsettling. Ketchum holds back just enough information that we begin to believe in ghosts and monsters, just as the characters must. The interior of the house is brilliantly rendered by Ketchum’s descriptions, making the old house take on a life of its own in our minds. You will remember the dark basement and the hole in the wall.
However, it’s not just the physical elements of the house that instill fear, but also the atmosphere that Ketchum so deftly crafts. The echoing silences, the creaking floorboards, and the chilling drafts that seem to come from nowhere, all combine to create a heightened sense of dread. Each twist and turn within the house mirrors the increasingly twisted dynamics between the characters, as past grievances, hidden traumas, and unresolved tensions come to the fore. The house, with its shadowed corners and forgotten memories, becomes a metaphor for the human mind—its fears, its secrets, and its propensity for both evil and good.
As the game progresses, it becomes evident that the real horror is not just what might be lurking in the house, but also what lies within the hearts and minds of the players. Ketchum brilliantly interweaves the personal horrors of the characters with the tangible scares of the house. Every revelation, every heartbeat, and every gasp for breath becomes a testament to Ketchum’s understanding of the human psyche. By the end, readers are left questioning the very nature of fear and the dark corners of their own minds. Ketchum’s Hide and Go Seek proves that sometimes, the most terrifying monsters are the ones we carry within us.
Hide and Seek by Jack Ketchum is a compact dark horror story – even with an added short story tacked on, Hide and Seek weighed in at only 176 pages.
As much as I enjoy novels such as The Stand and It, I also appreciate a story which doesn’t require me to commit multiple weeks of my life.
“DO YOU LOVE JACK KETCHUM? THIS IS THE HORROR YOU’VE WAITED FOR!”
Even with multiple life commitments, I still managed to storm through Hide and Seek in two-and-a-half days. Ketchum captured my interest from page one, and the pages kept turning with never a dull moment.
Hide and Seek is a scary tale that will satisfy fans of haunted houses and those intrigued by real-life horrors. Highly recommended.
Stephen King on Jack Ketchum
Stephen King, the renowned master of horror himself, has often expressed his admiration for Jack Ketchum’s work. King went so far as to call Ketchum “the scariest guy in America,” a significant commendation given King’s own monumental stature in the genre. King’s recognition of Ketchum’s talent isn’t solely based on the overt gore or violence in Ketchum’s stories, but rather on the unflinching way Ketchum delves into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. He recognized and appreciated Ketchum’s ability to portray horror not just through supernatural means or external monsters, but from the cruelty and unpredictability of everyday humans. It’s this raw, uncompromising look at human nature that King found truly chilling.
Both authors, though different in their styles, have made indelible marks on the horror genre, often focusing on the inherent darkness within humanity rather than just external monsters. King’s acknowledgment of Ketchum reflects a mutual respect between two titans of horror literature. In the landscape of horror literature, such endorsements underscore the notion that the most profound terrors often stem from real-life situations and human nature, a theme both writers have explored extensively in their works.
You can grab Jack Ketchum’s Hide and Seek on Amazon.