The Haunted Trail is the debut horror title by John C Lukegord, telling the tale of a streak of (fictional, or is it?) murders occurring in 1892 along an eponymous “haunted trail” in the backwoods of Dublin, perpetrated by the “crazy” and “inbred” mental patients et al that lurked within. The book covers several of these incidents, along with the actions of the community, a handful of ghosts, and an unfortunate clown. Together, the mystery of the haunted trail begins to unwind, but at what cost?
At first impressions, The Haunted Trail seems to be a a smorgasbord of mismatched and obviously-distorted stock imagery pieced together as the spine-tingling front-cover. These first impressions match the content, as Lukegord opens the book up into horror stereotype after horror stereotype, with common tropes seasoning a particularly simple writing style that indulges only in the most cursory details of all but the semi-random smatterings of gore and easy scares. The book frequently repeats itself and throws out minor details to the reader without attempting to pull things together on any kind of identifiable internal logic or theme beyond having a vaguely common root in horror, and often makes for a head-scratching experience as you struggle to make sense of anything but the basic premises of the plot and surface traits of the characters involved. This echoes such tales seen in TV shows like American Horror Story or The Twilight Zone, and mimics the genres of pop culture horror effectively.
Deliberately off-the-wall direction leaves the reader with the impression this book is a tongue-in-cheek look at horror tropes, but it’s not a laugh-out-loud experience. Instead, The Haunted Trail litters itself with the basic staples of the horror genre, but the author doesn’t utilize the traits of these components, and what makes them tick – this needed further exploration here in this first book of a series. The book does bring elements together, but does little to use them as anything more than thin templates to stick into the story to keep it going; a Halloween grab-bag constantly laying down new tracks to keep a watery premise, that like the river on the book cover, doesn’t indicate where it’s ending up.
The book is somewhat original in its conception, and once it stops focusing entirely on the woods, we begin to see a bigger, more unsettling picture of what this world is like, and how these disparate elements form a whole. It is fascinating in the same way a jigsaw constructed out of several different puzzle sets might be, but does little to provoke thought of a deeper intention in this undirected experimentation. If the potential humor of the book seems appealing to you, The Haunted Trail may be worth looking into, if only to lead into its more bold-faced sequel, and it’s maybe just a matter of time before Lukegord starts writing the sort of book that will indeed win over a horror audience for its original mashup kudos who enjoys the lighter side of bizzare horror story-telling.