It's the summer of 1960 in Elm Haven, Illinois, and five 12-year old boys are forming the bonds that a lifetime of changes will never erase. But then a dark cloud threatens the bright promise of summer vacation: on the last day of school, their classmate Tubby Cooke vanishes. Soon, the group discovers stories of other children who once disappeared from Elm Haven. And there are other strange things happening in town: unexplained holes in the ground, a stranger dressed as a World War I soldier, and a rendering-plant truck that seems to be following the five boys. The friends realize that there is a terrible evil lurking in Elm Haven...and they must be the ones to stop it.
In 2017 it was announced a film adaptation was under production.
This work contains examples of:
- Anyone Can Die: By the end of the book one of the boys dies a horrific death.
- Artifact of Doom: The Borgia Bell carries with it a great and terrible curse, which, once triggered, will bring about an apocalyptic event in sixty years, six months, and six days.
- Car Fu: The Rendering Truck is used to deadly effect.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The creature's aversion to holy water is possibly a result of this.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Only Holy Water blessed by a Catholic priest will work against the creature; Harlan dimnesses this as being due to the fact that only Catholics use it, but he's quite wrong there — the Anglican churches retain the tradition, and it is integral to the various Orthodox churches as well.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The book notes several times about how different things were in the 1960s. Duane also doesn't bat an eye at the fact that his father, and Alcoholic, drives drunk.
- Eldritch Abomination: The... thing haunting the town has shades of this.
- Holy Burns Evil: The creature is hurt by Holy Water. Its servants dismiss this as a habit picked up during its time in the Vatican, leaving open the question of whether Christianity or God really has anything to do with it.
- Humanoid Abomination: The WWI doughboy stalking the kids appears to be human... at first.
- Post-Modern Magik: The Borgia Bell is said to have been created from Earth and Air (a meteor fallen to Earth) and can only be prophesied to be destroyed by the other two Classic elements, Water and Fire. So the heroes use a tank truck filled with gasoline, a flammable liquid. They also bring holy water just in case though.
- Time Skip: Some of the kids show up in other books by Simmons as adults.
- Tomboy: Cordie Cooke, a tough trash-talking girl who wields a shotgun.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In 2008 Simmons wrote an epilogue called 'Watching the Presidential Debates in Elm Haven' which had the kids watching the Nixon/Kennedy debates on television with flash-forwards to their adult lives and in some cases eventual fates.