Rating: 4 out of 5
Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield is a really interesting take on a slasher novel. The adults and teens in the tiny, boring town of Kettle Springs aren’t getting along all that well these days. When Quinn and her father, a doctor, move out in the middle of nowhere, Quinn discovers that some of the teens have checkered pasts. One of them even burned down the factory that his father owned and most of the adults worked at. Of course this hasn’t stopped the kids from pulling the occasional prank, and their latest, though small, seems to trigger some pent-up rage. The town’s mascot is a clown named Frendo, and soon he shows up, killing a few people. When he shows up at a party most of the high-schoolers have thrown for themselves, things get bloody fast. Can Quinn and her new friends survive the night?
The characters are really good in this one. They all have some depth to them. Quinn is neither an instant badass nor a shrinking violet. Cole–the kid who burned down the factory–seems to have a kind of sadness to him. Others seem curiously hostile. Quinn’s father, the doctor, is excellent–highly skilled, dealing with his wife’s death, and kind of quirky. Sheriff Dunne is clearly not a nice guy, but he knows how to make the townspeople sit up and listen.
Unlike many slasher books, which are often set in the 80s (or 70s-90s), deliberately before the advent of cell phones, this is set nearly in the modern day. Not only do people have cell phones, but some of them have popular YouTube channels. There’s a nice theme of generational divide, which, considering some of what’s been happening lately, is a timely subject. I do think the author skillfully captures the small-town feel.
There’s plenty of gore caused by sharp implements, guns, and so forth. Once people start dying the tension ratchets up nicely; before that the story felt a little aimless.