A genuinely unsettling—in all the best ways—blend of suspense and the supernatural makes this a serial-killer tale like you’ve never seen.
Set in a crumbling contemporary Detroit, Beukes’ fourth novel (The Shining Girls, 2013, etc.) seamlessly alternates between the points of view of a single mother homicide detective; her 15-year-old daughter; a wannabe journalist; a homeless man; and an artist with deep-seated psychological issues. At the scene of the crime, Detective Gabriella Versado can’t remember the last time she’s seen something so brutal: The top half of 11-year-old Daveyton Lafonte is fused with the hind legs of a fawn in a hideous display of human taxidermy. While it’s obvious that the five storylines will eventually join together, Beukes never takes the easy route, letting each character develop organically. Versado’s daughter, Layla, cautiously navigates high school in the digital age; homeless scavenger Thomas “TK” Keen warily patrols the streets; Detroit transplant Jonno Haim tries to make a name for himself by chronicling first the city’s art scene and then the hunt for the killer dubbed the Detroit Monster; and sculptor Clayton Broom’s creations begin to take on lives of their own. Versado’s dogged pursuit of the killer, under the glare of the media spotlight, is as compelling a police procedural narrative as Broom’s descent into madness and the horrors of his dream world are a truly terrifying horror story.
Beukes gave us a time traveling serial killer in The Shining Girls, and the monsters in her latest tale, whether they’re real or imagined, will keep you up all night.
After being hypnotized during a theatrical performance, modern yet repressed Olivia begins to take interest in the women’s suffrage movement.
Just as her interest grows, her darkly conniving father, a dentist, becomes increasingly determined to keep her in what he has decided is her proper place—in the home. He hires the hypnotist, attractive young Henri, to give her a posthypnotic command: She will “see the world the way it truly is,” and when angry, she will only be able to respond by saying, “All is well”—a recipe for disaster. Kindly Henri is drawn into the scheme solely because he is trying to raise money for his younger sister’s needed surgery, of course. After the hypnosis, Olivia sees her father—vividly—for the monster he is, sees demoralized women fading into transparency and realizes the young man courting her is also a fiend. Although the romantic elements are predictable and the hypnosis component is overplayed, the early-1900s era is nicely portrayed, and the societal limits placed on Olivia are both daunting and realistic. A really malevolent dentist is amply creepy, and Olivia’s father’s threat believably pervades the tale, maximizing the suspense as she and Henri devise a plan to thwart his efforts.
A smattering of period photos adds authenticity to this gripping, atmospheric story of mind control and self-determination. (Historical fiction. 11-16)
Survivors and victims of a pandemic populate this quietly ambitious take on a post-apocalyptic world where some strive to preserve art, culture and kindness.
In her fourth novel, Mandel (The Lola Quartet, 2012, etc.) moves away from the literary thriller form of her previous books but keeps much of the intrigue. The story concerns the before and after of a catastrophic virus called the Georgia Flu that wipes out most of the world’s population. On one side of the timeline are the survivors, mainly a traveling troupe of musicians and actors and a stationary group stuck for years in an airport. On the other is a professional actor, who dies in the opening pages while performing King Lear, his ex-wives and his oldest friend, glimpsed in flashbacks. There’s also the man—a paparazzo-turned-paramedic—who runs to the stage from the audience to try to revive him, a Samaritan role he will play again in later years. Mandel is effectively spare in her depiction of both the tough hand-to-mouth existence of a devastated world and the almost unchallenged life of the celebrity—think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion. The intrigue arises when the troupe is threatened by a cult and breaks into disparate offshoots struggling toward a common haven. Woven through these little odysseys, and cunningly linking the cushy past and the perilous present, is a figure called the Prophet. Indeed, Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet while providing numerous strong moments, as when one of the last planes lands at the airport and seals its doors in self-imposed quarantine, standing for days on the tarmac as those outside try not to ponder the nightmare within. Another strand of that web is a well-traveled copy of a sci-fi graphic novel drawn by the actor’s first wife, depicting a space station seeking a new home after aliens take over Earth—a different sort of artist also pondering man’s fate and future.
Mandel’s solid writing and magnetic narrative make for a strong combination in what should be a breakout novel.
A girl struggles to fight the haunted family house that binds her to it in this reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Madeline and her brother, Roderick, come from a long line of Ushers cursed to live and die within the haunted walls of the House of Usher. Beloved by the house itself, Madeline can sense its feelings and for a long while trusts it to protect her. However, just like her mother before her, Madeline begins suffering fits. The house will do anything to keep her from leaving. And with her brother away at school and only sinister doctors remaining for company, Madeline must plot to escape before the house has its way with her, keeping her trapped forever. Griffin creates a thick, murky atmosphere within the walls of the House of Usher from the start, layering in chilling details as Madeline’s situation becomes ever more dire. Though only appearing intermittently, Roderick and her parents all cast long shadows, and the house is populated with compelling characters among the ghosts of Ushers past. Readers will be swept away immediately by the eerie setting, but it’s Madeline’s fighting will to survive that will keep them turning pages late into the night.
A standout take on the classic haunted-house tale replete with surprises around every shadowy corner.
A hardy band of big-box retail employees must dig down for their personal courage when ghosts begin stalking them through home furnishings.
You have to give it up for the wave of paranormal novels that have plagued the last decade in literature; at least they’ve made writers up their games when it comes to finding new settings in which to plot their scary moments. That’s the case with this clever little horror story from longtime pop-culture journalist Hendrix (Satan Loves You, 2012, etc.). Set inside a disturbingly familiar Scandinavian furniture superstore in Cleveland called Orsk, the book starts as a Palahniuk-tinged satire about the things we own—the novel is even wrapped in the form of a retail catalog complete with product illustrations. Our main protagonist is Amy, an aimless 24-year-old retail clerk. She and an elderly co-worker, Ruth Anne, are recruited by their anal-retentive boss, Basil (a closet geek), to investigate a series of strange breakages by walking the showroom floor overnight. They quickly uncover two other co-workers, Matt and Trinity, who have stayed in the store to film a reality show called Ghost Bomb in hopes of catching a spirit on tape. It’s cute and quite funny in a Scooby Doo kind of way until they run across Carl, a homeless squatter who's just trying to catch a break. Following an impromptu séance, Carl is possessed by an evil spirit and cuts his own throat. It turns out the Orsk store was built on the remains of a brutal prison called the Cuyahoga Panopticon, and its former warden, Josiah Worth, has returned from the dead to start up operations again. It sounds like an absurd setting for a haunted-house novel, but Hendrix makes it work to the story’s advantage, turning the psychological manipulations and scripted experiences that are inherent to the retail experience into a sinister fight for survival.
A treat for fans of The Evil Dead or Zombieland, complete with affordable solutions for better living.
Irish fantasist Kiernan (The Poison Throne, 2010, etc.) explores the dynamics of love and loss.
In 1974, 15-year-old identical twins Pat and Dom move with their family into a drab summer cottage after their senile grandmother inadvertently burns down their house. Nerves still raw from the disruption of their lives and the loss of their home, the twins start to have strange dreams. Then Pat hears Dom talking in the night and sees a goblin-boy peering down from the bunk above him. The harrowing series of events that follows convinces Pat that he’s losing his brother: Dom becomes possessed by a 10-year-old boy stuck in a gray fog that’s neither this world nor the next, endlessly searching for his twin, a soldier who died in the trenches of World War I. Pat’s narration is marked by vivid descriptions and consistently polished, well-paced prose: “Yesterday morning, I’d had a brother. I’d had a best friend. He’d been fun. He’d been interesting: my slow-burn, articulate counterweight. Now I was lopsided, a boat with one paddle, rowing frantically and spinning in a slow, maddening circle around the space that should have been him.” The otherworldly goings-on are grounded in the family lives of the village their Nan grew up in, adding intriguing nuances to the psychological drama.
A gripping, highly original ghost story.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)
In his latest suspenser, the prolific King (Joyland, 2013, etc.) returns to the theme of the scary car—except this one has a scary driver who’s as loony but logical unto himself as old Jack Torrance from The Shining.
It’s an utterly American setup: Over here is a line of dispirited people waiting to get into a job fair, and over there is a psycho licking his chops at the easy target they present; he aims a car into the crowd and mows down a bunch of innocents, killing eight and hurting many more. The car isn’t his. The malice most certainly is, and it’s up to world-weary ex-cop Bill Hodges to pull himself up from depression and figure out the identity of the author of that heinous act. That author offers help: He sends sometimes-taunting, sometimes–sympathy-courting notes explaining his actions. (“I must say I exceeded my own wildest expectations,” he crows in one, while in another he mourns, “I grew up in a physically and sexually abusive household.”) With a cadre of investigators in tow, Hodges sets out to avert what is certain to be an even greater trauma, for the object of his cat-and-mouse quest has much larger ambitions, this time involving a fireworks show worthy of Fight Club. And that’s not his only crime: He's illegally downloaded “the whole Anarchist Cookbook from BitTorrent,” and copyright theft just may be the ultimate evil in the King moral universe. King’s familiar themes are all here: There's craziness in spades and plenty of alcohol and even a carnival, King being perhaps the most accomplished coulrophobe at work today. The storyline is vintage King, too: In the battle of good and evil, good may prevail—but never before evil has caused a whole lot of mayhem.
The scariest thing of all is to imagine King writing a happy children’s book. This isn’t it: It’s nicely dark, never predictable and altogether entertaining.
The atmosphere in Yovanoff’s latest is eerily reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, if only Harper Lee’s Maycomb residents had been given magical families as a focus for their bigotry.
New South Bend is a typical small town, where families have known each other for generations and intolerances simmer just beneath the surface. Tension runs high between the “craft” people, town outcasts because of the magical qualities inherited from their “fiend” ancestors, and the everyday townspeople. Once, years earlier, at a time when the craft ran amok causing chaos, many townspeople burned craft homes and killed craft people, an event that has come to be known as “the reckoning.” Few people realize that a young craft girl, Clementine, was magically bound and left in a trancelike state in the cellar of a burned home. When Fisher, who has more than a touch of craft blood in him, unearths Clementine, now a teenager, history begins to repeat itself. As Fisher and Clementine are drawn to each other, the craft become increasingly unruly. But this time, Clementine, fueled by her pure heart and her unique ability to enhance others’ powers, is determined to control the craft and avoid another bloody confrontation. Yet old habits die hard, and Clementine finds her potential craft allies may prefer revenge for their reckoning.
This beguiling amalgamation of the magical and modern worlds will have readers mesmerized.
(Urban fantasy. 12-18)
A smoky and realistic ghost story that subverts cliché.
This first adult novel from Oliver (Panic, 2013, etc.), a best-selling writer for teens, has two standard horror tales at its foundation. First, a ghost story in which the ghosts can’t leave the house but don’t know why. Second, an estranged family story in which the ex-husband dies, leaving his alcoholic ex-wife, angry daughter and disaffected teen son to clean out their former home, not knowing that it's haunted. When the stories collide, they make a novel that's greater than the sum of its parts. The ghosts and people here have a surprising amount in common—on both sides of the veil, there is pain, regret and a lot of irritation with one’s counterparts. That the book succeeds is due in large part to Oliver’s characters. Though some are flat in internal monologue, most come to life when interacting with each other, as Oliver’s ear for dialogue is finely tuned. She's able to take the tropes of the traditional ghost story and give them new energy by creating ghosts who are realistic but still terrifyingly paranormal. The story is well-served by Oliver’s sense of drama, though she seems unable to resist ending each chapter with some sort of meaningful cliffhanger, like “I pretended not to notice his wedding ring the whole time.” These touches aren’t necessary, thanks to her careful unfolding of each character’s secret, and weaken an otherwise compelling set of stories. Nevertheless, the book is a page-turner.
This satisfying novel will be enjoyed by Oliver’s fans and bring new ones to the fold.