Dreams The Ragman by Greg Gifune; Delirium Books; 2011; 194 pgs; $25.00 US

When Derrick was a little boy, his Grandfather used to tell him and his buddy stories about The Ragman, a filthy old guy with a beat up horse drawn carriage who would wander through their town asking people for rags, old newspapers, or any other junk they might want to get rid of.  As his Grandfather aged the stories became more elaborate, to the point where The Ragman evolved into an evil ghoul who slaughtered people to satiate his hunger for men’s souls.  Derrick and his best friend Caleb listened to these stories for years, up until the time Derrick’s Grandfather passed away.  But even after his death, The Ragman never strayed far from their thoughts.  He became a real person to them, not just a fable told by an old man.  And after the local murders started, they were convinced he was flesh and blood.

In Massachusetts, where the two boys lived, there were a series of gruesome murders over a two year period.  After an investigation, it was discovered that there was someone traveling up and down the eastern seaboard, most likely traveling by train, who was a serial killer.  Both boys deemed The Ragman responsible for all of the murders and they vowed to solve the mystery.  But then the killings stopped.   And though the two boys went on to grow older and eventually led lives separate from each other, both never forgot about the murders, or the stories of The Ragman.

Fast forward thirty years.   Derrick’s marriage is on the rocks and Caleb is a full blown drug addict.  And though they haven’t seen each other in all that time, an event has occurred that will bring them both back together again.  There is a murder, this time in New Hampshire, and it bears all the same trademarks as the ones that occurred thirty years earlier.  Derrick is compelled to investigate the murder and he contacts Caleb.  Separately, they head on up to New Hampshire and what they discover while investigating the murder, is that maybe Derrick’s Grandfather’s stories weren’t just tall tales after all.

There is no other writer more adept than Greg Gifune at inducing melancholy and Dreams The Ragman weighs heavy on the reader from its opening pages.   Gifune loads us down with the burdens of unease and uncertainty, assaulting his readers with the stark, empty feelings of loneliness and isolation as we follow along with Derrick and his best friend as they come to terms with the choices they’ve made in their lives… and the eventual choices they will have to make.

And, as he has done so brilliantly in his past work, with Dreams The Ragman Gifune once again unflinchingly explores the varying degrees of evil that surround us.  Using characters as abstract as the local constable or as defined as The Ragman, Gifune is a master at prompting the reader to examine a dichotomy of evil; our fear of it and how we struggle for balance with it in our lives.

And Gifune manages to do all of the above in a story that’s intriguing, fast paced, and so entertaining that most readers will finish it in one setting.  It is this reviewer’s opinion that Greg Gifune is the best at what he does.   It is my recommendation that you pick up Dreams The Ragman and make up your own mind as to whether Greg Gifune might be the premier dark fiction author of our times.

Mar 10, 2011

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