Under the Overtree James A. Moore, 2000.
Mark is the new kid in the tiny, tight-knit town of Summitville in the remote Colorado Rockies. He’s slightly chubby. Has low-self esteem. No surprise that he becomes the whipping boy of the local high school bullies. A bloody beating in the woods sets disturbing events in motion that will change Mark’s life forever. And may cost him his soul.
Remarkably, after Mark is physically scarred for life from his thrashing, things get better for him. He tentatively finds a girlfriend. Gets a job with the local bookstore owner who is also a popular horror writer. Makes a few friends in town. And makes friends with those odd little creatures in the forest. The people who bother him start to disappear. Get dismembered. Have the marrow sucked out of their bones.
Unbeknownst even to Mark himself, those strange little beings – that look a lot less cute to anyone else who lives long enough to see them – are changing him into something unnatural and very, very evil.
By the time the infamous Mr. Crowley comes to town, things are rapidly deteriorating in Summitville. Crowley is a reoccurring character in some of Moore’s novels: a not-very-nice, feral-smiling fighter of malicious forces. He is a treat of an antihero. It is up to Crowley to see if he can bring things back to normal. Or at least perform a little damage control.
Moore is a masterful writer. He spends time developing his place and his people. His characterization is subtle and nuanced, resulting in a wholly believable cast. The folks in Summitville could be your neighbors; you feel as if you know them and care about them – dark secrets, raw emotions and all. Similarly, Summitville, with its beautiful forest, small town main street, crisp mornings and fall trails through the woods could just as easily be your own little hometown.
Under the Overtree is a longer book with a slow build, which may turn off readers who want a quick fix of jump scares or a rapid series of bloodbaths. Moore’s gradual increase in tension, however, makes the horror all the more shocking when it does occur because you have become so invested in the world of the book. Moore combines dry humor, a honed sense of the grotesque, and a dose of compassion for the human condition to make a crackerjack horror story.