Christopher Balzano,
Dark Woods:
Cults, Crime & Paranormal in the Freetown State Forest

(Schiffer, 2010)

From the time settlers hit Massachusetts, the area of Freetown, which covers the land south of Boston to the Rhode Island line, has been a hotbed of paranormal activity. Much of it has been concentrated in the State Forest. From the early days when the Wampanoag Indians lived there, the land has been said to be haunted. Prince Phillip's War, in which the Wanpanoags tried to drive the British out of the area, led to extremes of violence and mayhem. The reports of haunting date to that day.

But, according to author Christopher Balzano, the forest isn't just haunted by the spirits of dead Indians. There are mad truckers, men who suddenly appear in the road in front of passing cars -- the forest as Balzano describes it is a closed-down place harboring ghosts, a witch, small hairy creatures called pukwudgies, even zombies. In a place like Freetown State Forest, even The Amityville Horror seems mundane.

Balzano also tells stories of Satanism and cult killings, including the story of serial killings of young Fall River prostitutes, which he is convinced are connected to Satanism. The book closes with a recount of the history of the highway killer, another serial killer whose work he believes is linked to the evil side of the paranormal.

It's an interesting book, made better by the fact that the author recognizes that at least some of the stories he related can be explained by natural reasons or are urban legends and are not necessarily ghost-related at all. The book is weakened, however, by a lack of editing. Balzano is, shall we say, less than a graceful writer, and some sentences seem to drift on forever, losing their clarity along the way. A good editor would have helped him correct them. Also, far too many spelling errors creep into the book. Alister Crowley becomes Alster Crowley on one page, Crowly on the next.

Still, Balzano maintains a strong narrative and his book is fun, if not entirely convincing.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

2 October 2010

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