Steven Gillard’s 2005 novel The Candy Bandit reads like a fifth grader wrote it. Taking place on the night of Halloween, the story follows five friends as they attempt to apprehend the eponymous Candy Bandit, a kid named Bill who has stolen the candy of every trick-or-treater on the block.
While the premise is simple and even promising, evoking classic tales of group of kids saving the day, the execution is atrocious. The outcome is predictable, and not once is the reader given an ounce of thematic insight or character development that would allow the story to go beyond its uninspired plot.
Though the youngest of the gang is five and the oldest eleven, all of them are regular Sherlocks–they never take a wrong turn. We first see this when the youngest, Mikey, after realizing his candy has been stolen, notices the boy dressed as a ninja hauling an enormous sack down the street. Apparently, the rest of the neighborhood is blind. These incredible sleuthing skills are further put to use as the gang follows Bill and his cronies his headquarters, a booby-trapped abandoned house where he is storing the candy. Hiding in the vents (wow), the gang discovers that the Candy Bandit plans to rob Jack’s Candy Booth, a store in the middle of the woods whose owner, a forty-year-old man who dresses as a pumpkin, gives out king-sized bars to trick-or treaters.
The characterization is nonexistent, and each member of the gang is interchangeable with one another. The dialogue is almost entirely excruciating exposition, continually disrupting the narrative flow as each kid describes exactly what they must do before they do it. Moreover, the much of the described action is unnecessary and incredibly clunky: “He dangled his legs through the hole, then slid off, landing on his feet. Garrett went next, getting down the same way as Mikey. Then Lisa went. She got down the same way as Garrett and Mikey. Steven went next just like the two other boys. And Stacy went last, the same way as everyone else.”
The gang is of course ultimately successful in defeating the Candy Bandit. The story culminates in his apprehension on the roof of the abandoned house, the gang dumping the recovered candy to the cheering trick-or-treaters on the streets below. But despite the cinematic ending, the audience remains unmoved because the story never goes beyond surface level. It never delves deeper into the relationships between the main characters, nor does it attempt to paint the Candy Bandit–whose fledgling criminal enterprise suggests a deeply troubled childhood–in a human light.
I hope that for his own sake Gillard has since abandoned his literary ambitions, but given the complete confidence in his writing chops evident in The Candy Bandit, I’m fairly certain that he went on to major in English at college and is currently writing short stories in his parents’ basement.