Sarah Piper, a self-proclaimed modern woman living in London, finds herself living a ghost story in this post–World War I tale.
A temp agency offers Sarah a job with a mysterious, handsome writer, Alistair Gellis, who carries scars from the recent Great War. His postwar passion finds him writing travel books—as dry and academic as he can make them—about various haunted sites in England, but his interest is piqued by the case of a haunted barn in the small village of Waringstoke; a young maidservant hanged herself in her employer’s barn and has been making mischief and threats ever since, most recently terrorizing a local vicar when he is called to perform an exorcism. According to her former employer, Mrs. Clare, Maddy, the ghost, hates men, so if Alistair is to verify the haunting for his next book, Sarah will have to confront the angry spirit. Feeling adrift in her life and intrigued by Alistair’s company, Sarah agrees to the job, embarking on a terrifying journey into the damaged psyche of Maddy Clare. Capable of manipulating her environment and producing hallucinations, Maddy is not resting quietly. Not only must Sarah and Matthew Ryder, Alistair’s tough and war-scarred friend, race to discover the truth behind Maddy’s life and death, they are soon caught up in Maddy’s troubling obsession with Alistair. Through fog, darkness, nightmares and fire, Sarah and Matthew fight to save their friend while also succumbing to their own heated attraction. Along the way, they meet all the mysterious figures one would hope to find in a small English town: the brash new-money aristocrat and his unhappy, beautiful wife; the distrustful gravedigger; the man who watches outside Sarah’s window. And of course, Maddy, the one who connects them all and is either seeking peace—or revenge.
A chilling start gives way to a more predictable ending, but fans of the modern Gothic novel will enjoy filling up a few creepy hours.
Infidelity, bullying, savage beatings, sororicide, curses, murder and the devil himself all come into play in this quietly savage meditation on evil.
In an age when “torture porn” still makes regular returns to the multiplex every Halloween, it’s worth being reminded that novelists, especially gifted ones, can make the trespasses we inflict on others just as ghastly as any chain-saw massacre. German-born novelist Kiesbye (Next Door Lived a Girl, 2005) gives it his all in a series of interconnected stories that smack of shades of Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. With a title lightly copied from an old Tom Waits growler (“Your house is on fire, children are alone,” from the song “Jockey Full of Bourbon”), the novel opens on a present-day funeral in the frigid community of Hemmersmoor, a seemingly pastoral village in northern Germany. Christian, who fled the village for years, has returned with childhood friends Alex, Martin and Linde to bury their companion, Anke. But it’s soon obvious that all is not what it seems when Linde spits on her friend’s grave and murmurs, “I just hope she can see me from hell.” From this moment, the lives of these little monsters unfold, each chapter read by a different narrator. Christian unveils a horrible confession of a murder committed to gain admission to a carnival tent. Martin tells of a botched festival that ends in the communal murder of a foreigner and her children. Alex dares a classmate to try his luck in the frigid waters of a frozen pond. The narration, as with all the stories, is both clinically dispassionate and chilling. “We threw his shoes and his clothes after him that night, along with the fifty marks. We made a solemn pact to keep quiet forever,” Kiesbye writes. Not always clear, but nearly always startling.
A devious intimation of homegrown terrors likely to keep readers awake long after closing time has come and gone.
Part revenge fantasy, part horror story and part police investigation gone wrong, this debut vampire novel translated from the Swedish sinks its fangs into fresh territory.
It is 1981 in a Stockholm suburb, and 12-year-old Oskar is the epitome of a bully's victim: He’s a fat little know-it-all who suffers from incontinence and periodic nosebleeds. His life changes when Eli, an astonishingly beautiful but unkempt girl, and her father Hakan move in next door. With her encouragement, Oskar somehow finds the strength to begin striking back at his tormentors. But Eli is no true child; she is a 220-year-old vampire, and her so-called “father” is actually a pedophile who demonstrates his frighteningly obsessive devotion to Eli by anesthetizing young boys, draining their blood and bringing them back to her when she’s too weak to hunt for herself. A blunder by Hakan, Eli’s advice to Oskar and the vengeance sought by a friend of one of Eli’s victims all inevitably lead to tragedy—or triumph, depending on the perspective. Although it does have its grotesque, over-the-top moments, the book is wonderfully bleak and spare. Unlike Anne Rice’s hedonistic bloodsuckers, Lundqvist’s vampires are sad, lonely creatures who simply want to survive, taking little pleasure in what is required to do so. If there is one complaint, it is that the author sets the book entirely in the fall, and so cannot exploit the obvious advantages and disadvantages of being a Swedish vampire—24-hour darkness during winter, but midnight sun in summer.
The zombie genre provides unlikely inspiration for the author’s creative renewal.
Whitehead (Sag Harbor, 2009, etc.) never writes the same book twice, though his eclectic output had fallen short of the promise he flashed in his early novels (The Intuitionist, 1998, etc.). Yet here he sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date. Though there’s enough chomp-and-spurt gorefest to satiate fans of the format, Whitehead transforms the zombie novel into an allegory of contemporary Manhattan (and, by extension, America), where “it was the business of the plague to reveal our family members, friends, and neighbors as the creatures they had always been” and the never-explained apocalypse “sentenced you to observe the world through the sad aperture of the dead, suffer the gross parody of your existence.” The reader’s guide through this particular circle of hell is a clean-up/extermination operative called Mark Spitz (for reasons that aren’t worth the elaborate explanation the novel eventually gives). He was formerly employed as a social-network functionary for a Starbucks-style coffee chain, an occupation that seems even more ludicrous in the wake of a society transformed by hordes of organ-eating zombies. (A colleague’s former occupation was “a sommelier at a high-end eatery in Cambridge that specialized in offal.”) With its savage sense of humor and thematic ambitions, the narrative is to contemporary zombie novels what the movies of George Romero are to other zombie flicks. As survivors of the “Last Night” struggle through “PASD, or Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder," the government (located in Buffalo) peddles hope in the form of its “American Phoenix Rising” campaign, with its own power-ballad anthem: “Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme from Reconstruction).” When the protagonist was a child, he asked his father the meaning of the word “apocalypse.” His father replied, “It means that in the future, things will be even worse than they are now.” And, sure enough, they are.
The latest from a generation of literary novelists who are erasing the distinction between art and pulp.
Seventeen all-new tales emulating, or re-creating, the ambience of classic Victorian supernatural suspense.
Not unexpectedly, London with its smog haunts of ill repute and real-life history is the favored, sometimes quite imaginary, but by no means exclusive venue. The standouts: Peter S. Beagle's typically lyrical and brilliant conjuring of ghostly voices in an alternate-world past. Gene Wolfe, in inimitable style, gives us a murderer who's brilliantly duped by a vengeful not-quite-ghost. Lucius Shepard weighs in with a creepy tale of a ghost-trapping machine, obsession and incest. John Harwood writes a lethal manuscript. Laird Barron describes devilish sprits, some in human guise, roaming the wilds of Washington State. From Jeffrey Ford comes a fine tale from the early career of Cley, his splendidly deluded Physiognomist. Paul Park offers an eerie, jangling tale of New Orleans wherein nothing is what it seems and, indeed, seems to deny that anything ever could be. And John Langan's effervescently titled "The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn's Balloons" conjures up some oozily nasty alien vampires. Elsewhere, Robert Silverberg offers a perfect Kipling-esque period piece without surprises; James Morrow's ghost-trapping metal shroud falls apart from illogic; Terry Dowling describes a demonic mummy; Garth Nix offers an imaginative but overdone Sherlock Holmes pastiche; plus, a time-travelling succubus (Margo Lanagan), a ghostly alien invader (Sean Williams), a machine that cures mental illness (Richard Harland), a ghost in a mirror (Marly Youmans) and, with a decidedly modern sensibility, the ghost of a murdered poet (Theodora Goss).
Clever and often impressive work that succeeds, mostly, in being more than a mere exercise in nostalgia.
Having survived brushes with ruthless killers, human monsters and treacherous colleagues of every stripe (Red Mist, 2011, etc.), forensic pathologist Dr. Kay Scarpetta limps into her 20th case to encounter more of the same.
Scarpetta’s latest casts her as Zeno trying to overtake the tortoise. Before she can track the provenance of the video that’s been emailed to her—a video apparently featuring footage of missing University of Alberta paleontologist Emma Shubert’s severed ear—she has to testify, however unwillingly, for the defense in Channing Lott’s trial for the murder of his vanished wife. Before she can leave for court, she has to examine the mummified remains of an unidentified woman who’s been spotted in Boston Harbor—an examination that has to begin instantly, before the deterioration delayed by the corpse’s long period of climate-controlled storage resumes at top speed. But before Scarpetta can get the corpse on a slab, it’ll have to be gently cut loose from the leatherback turtle who’s gotten tangled up with it, an animal whose endangered species status gives it priority over a mere human cadaver. The first half of this sprawling, ambitious tale may make the reader feel like Zeno as well, constantly struggling to catch up to what Scarpetta already knows about the latest round of traumas posed by her husband, Benton Wesley, her niece, Lucy Farinelli, and her investigator, Pete Marino. It’s not till the second half, when Cornwell hunkers down to tie all these cases together, that excitement rises even as disbelief creeps in.
An ingenious murder method, more hours in the mortuary and forensics lab than usual, an uncharacteristically muffled killer, and all the trademark battles among the regulars and every potential ally who gets in their way.
Scandinavian writers dominate the police-procedural genre. Are they now bent on taking over horror? Swedish creepmeister Lindqvist is hot on the case.
The author of one of the scariest vampire novels to have come out in years, Let Me In (2007) (film version Let the Right One In), Lindqvist drifts squarely into Stephen King territory with his latest—which, it seems, is a bit of a roman à clef, reflecting the author’s childhood in a Stockholm housing development on the edge of the city. So it is with Domarö, an island not far from the Swedish capital where hoary old fishermen mend their nets and rough-edged yokels sharpen their knives, even as smart urbanites zip about in their fine cars and well-made clothes. One of those city slickers, a pensive fellow named Anders, suffers a terrible blow when his daughter, Maja, sees something mysterious, goes to have a look and disappears. “She was good at finding places to hide,” Anders reasons at first. “Although she could be over-excited and eager in other situations, when she was playing hide and seek she could keep quiet and still for any length of time.” Well, this is a very serious game of hide and seek indeed, for others on this island have gone missing, too—boatloads of them, with cases of schnapps as a gift to the critters that dwell in the spectral Baltic waters. Will Anders ever find his daughter? Perhaps, perhaps not—and therein hangs the tale. Lindqvist ventures on heavy-handedness by introducing a character who, a touch too conveniently, happens to be a retired magician with a trick up his sleeve (or, more to the point, in his matchbox) and lots of wisdom to dispense. In the main, though, he capably keeps his story far from the usual splatterfest slasher stuff and instead holds it to the confines of psychological thriller, which is plenty spooky enough, atmospheric and foreboding: “There is a film of moisture over everything and water drips from the leaves of the trees, as if this island has risen from the sea just to meet him.”
Perhaps not a book to read by the seashore, if you’re literal-minded. A spooky pleasure, expertly told.
In the strange, devastating aftermath of Gray Wednesday, when the Earth's poles suddenly switched, the world is in even greater chaos, climatic distress and financial ruin than it is now.
Not only are people struggling for survival, most of them are shadowed by a ghost. In most cases, it's the ghost of a relative or friend, but for tormented Australian cop Oscar Mariani, the specter is an unknown 16-year-old boy. The son of a storied cop, Mariani works for forever dank and gloomy Brisbane's special Nine-Ten unit, which determines whether a homicide suspect was driven to commit the crime by the maddening presence of a ghost. If so, it's a pardonable offense. Oscar has a vested interest in solving the grisly killing of a girl found ripped apart in a sewage plant, a weird religious symbol carved into her stomach. He has never gotten over the guilt of maiming another teenage girl when he swerved to avoid a boy in the road—the boy, as it turns out, who is now haunting him. When Oscar's dirty superiors order him to back off the case, which involves the abduction, torture and murder of disabled girls from a nursing home, he goes rogue, losing his loyal female partner on the force in the process. It's not enough for him to get beat up, shot and hailed on. In a frightening scene, huge, vulturelike creatures maul him. In the striking retro future of this novel, bizarre and familiar comfortably coincide.
A rogue scientist’s experiment in revenge wreaks havoc on a rural township in Pennsylvania.
A rare one-off from the prolific Maberry (Dust & Decay, 2011, etc.) recycles bits and pieces from B-horror flicks and adds a few twists of its own. The author dedicates the book to George A. Romero, penning an unapologetic love letter to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, right down to a setting in rural Pennsylvania. It’s here in pastoral Stebbins County that things go to hell. It starts at a new-age funeral home whose proprietor, Doc “Lee” Hartnup, is startled to find the corpse of serial killer Homer Gibbon. Stumbling into a grotesque crime scene are two local cops, JT Hammond and his partner Desdemona “Dez” Fox. JT is more soulful, a quiet, cautious cop and father figure. Predictably, the book focuses on the voluptuous Dez: “Built like Scarlett Johansson, with ice blue eyes, bee-stung lips and a natural blonde if the rumors were true.” Her self-destructive rage veers dangerously near caricature while her characterization as “Genghis Khan with boobs” doesn’t exactly inspire affection. Still, this shortcoming won’t detract Maberry’s legions from enjoying his breathless, clipped prose as the zombie plague accelerates—just as a hurricane bears down on Stebbins County. The truly creepy part comes when local hack and serial-killer aficionado Billy Trout starts tracking down Gibbon’s back story. Billy roots out Dr. Herman Volker, an East German scientist smuggled out by the CIA. To avenge an old family trauma, Volker has resurrected a secret formula. “Can you think of a more fitting punishment for a serial murderer than to be awake and aware in a coffin while his body slowly rots?” Volker’s detailed, believable description of the unspeakable cocktail he’s invented, right down to cribbing from The Serpent and the Rainbow, is as inventive as it is sickening.
An outlandish but superfluous zombie yarn that is gruesome, imaginative and grateful to its inspirations.
YA fearmonger Stine tries his hand at adult horror, with decidedly jejune results.
When travel blogger Lea Sutter (ignoring urgent forecasts) visits a Carolina coastal island just before a hurricane, that is only the first of the foolhardy decisions that Stine’s plot demands. (What if horror characters went on strike and refused to throw caution to the wind?) After the hurricane levels the island, Lea witnesses carnage, lovingly described. While walking in an ominous post-hurricane red rain, she’s approached by two angelic-looking twin boys, Daniel and Samuel, who utter anachronisms in brogue. Instead of calling Child Protective Services, Lea takes the 12-year-old twins home to Sag Harbor over the objections of husband Mark, a child psychologist and the author of a controversial parenting book. The Sutter offspring, Ira, who is also 12, and teenager Elena, resent the interlopers, as does Mark’s sister, Roz, particularly when Daniel, the obvious sociopath of the duo, keeps comparing her young son to a monkey. The book occasionally switches point of view to the twins, so right away readers know they are scamming the well-meaning Long Islanders, but to what end? At the same time, they seem to have a plan for world domination, starting with ruling their new middle school. In fact, the child characters take up so much space that, but for the sex and profanity in the adult sections, this could easily be another Fear Street or Goosebumps chapter book. Aside from wondering when the police (who also share narrative duties) and the Sutters are going to catch on to who is responsible for some bizarre and garishly depicted mayhem, readers will be puzzling over exactly which horror stereotype fits the twins. Are they zombies from the past, as a bit of foreshadowing hinted? Are they demons or just your garden variety bad seeds? Bottom line, they cannot wreak havoc without the witless collusion of the adult characters, who are definitely not on strike.
A man grows increasingly convinced the ghost of his son haunts his previous home in this fast-paced suburban gothic tale.
The debut novel by PEN/Bingham Award winner Coake (Creative Writing/U. of Nevada; stories: We’re in Trouble, 2005) opens with its hero, Mark, increasingly harassed by Connie, who owns the house where his son, Brendan, died years before in a fall that snapped his neck. Mark is eager to move on with his life, preparing to marry his fiancee, Allison, and cutting the cord with Brendan’s mother, Chloe. But Connie insists Brendan is “present” in the home, and Chloe is so bereaved she’s inclined to investigate. The plot hinges on making even the slightest possibility of a haunting seem credible, and Coake stretches out the story to sell that point, shuttling Mark between skepticism and belief. That makes for some wheel-spinning pages, and as a ghost story the novel feels restrained and low on chills. But Coake is expert at defining character: As Mark does all that waffling (and revisits his old drinking habit), he opens up to himself about the feelings of guilt and loss that have tormented him since Brendan died. And though the story is dialogue-heavy and engineered as a page-turner, Coake never lets the story move so fast that he can’t deliver an elegant, forceful observation about the ways couples (and exes) parry with each other as they struggle to get along. Our pasts have ways of worming into us if we fail to confront them, Coake argues—if ghosts aren’t actually real, they have a metaphorical power that makes them effectively real. The ghost question is definitively settled in the closing pages, but it’s the relationships between Mark and the two understandably frustrated women in his life that linger.
An overlong but potent story, balancing supernatural gloom and marital conflict.
Shepherd’s latest detective story (Murder at Mansfield Park, 2010) is a Victorian tour de force that borrows characters from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.
Ever since Metropolitan police officer Charles Maddox was dismissed for insubordination, he’s eked out a living as a private detective. He currently has two cases. The first is finding the grandchild of a man who had cast out his pregnant daughter years before. The second is identifying the writer of threatening scrawls for Edward Tulkinghorn, a powerful attorney who represents the interests of the wealthy and highborn. Charles has learned a good deal from his great uncle. Now that this brilliant detective and mentor is slipping into the dark world of age-related mental illness, Charles, moving into his home to supervise his care, benefits from his meticulously kept case notes. At length he realizes that his work for Tulkinghorn is leaving in its wake a string of corpses, many of them evidently connected to the horrific murder of several women. In 1850s England it is no easy task to confront the noble clients Tulkinghorn is protecting, but Charles is determined to discover the truth no matter where it leads. He is savagely attacked and even arrested. Can he rely on Inspector Bucket’s assurances that he is on Charles’ side? The enterprising sleuth’s life may depend on the answer when his two cases come together in a horrifying denouement.
Shepherd offers an intricate plot and a thousand details of the least-admirable side of Victorian life. A must-read.
The lost soul of an unsuccessful police officer roams a Delaware town seeking redemption.
Before he was killed in a drug bust gone wrong, Kevin Fahey was no great shakes as a police detective, husband or father. Now that he’s dead, Kevin hangs around the Holloway Institute, whose troubled residents try to overcome their mental problems with a wide range of outcomes. Incarcerated in the unit for the criminally insane is Otis Redman Parker, who managed to finagle an insanity plea after brutally murdering several women. The body of a young woman is found near the Institute with all the marks of Parker’s former kills, many of them unknown to the public. Besides feeling pessimistic over Parker’s efforts to overturn his guilty plea, Kevin must also watch his son Michael spend time at the Institute in an effort to handle his problems, many caused by Kevin’s death. The police team investigating the murder is sure Parker is somehow involved, since it was one of the few cases that Kevin did not screw up, but they expect proving his guilt will be difficult. The teenage girl who was killed was Michael’s friend and the former girlfriend of his best friend Adam, a bright boy who leads a hellish life with an abusive father. Hoping to help solve the case, unseen Kevin tags along with the investigators and listens in on conversations in the Institute. Since he has no corporeal body, he cannot act himself, but he aims to influence others in a desperate attempt to nail the killer.
Munger’s third Dead Detective case (Angel Interrupted, 2010, etc.) is a police procedural with a twist. Kevin’s latest attempt at redemption is filled with anger and anguish right up to the exciting climax.
A fill-in job lands a young woman right in the middle of a murder case.
Nela Farley’s life is in ruins since the death of her fiance and the loss of her job as an investigative reporter. So it’s easy for her to take her sister Chloe’s place while she goes on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Chloe, who works for the Haklo Foundation in Craddock, Okla., has everything arranged for her sister, including a garage apartment behind the mansion of Haklo trustee Blythe Webster. The apartment was used by Marian Grant, who ran Haklo until she was killed in a fall over the apartment railing. When Nela looks into the eyes of Marion’s cat Jugs, she reads his thoughts, which indicate Miss Grant’s death may not have been an accident. She’s barely settled in the guest room before an intruder enters the apartment, though her call to the police chases him off. Nela cleans up, buys a doorstop and makes the shocking discovery of a diamond necklace in Marian’s purse. Nela’s work at the foundation is easy, but things are not right there. Numerous incidents of vandalism have occurred, and staff members are at each other's throats. When more trouble dogs Haklo, the police suspect Nela and Chloe. Only Steve Flynn, who runs the local newspaper, believes in Nela’s innocence and promises to help her discover the killer before she becomes the next victim.
Veteran Hart (Death Comes Silently, 2012, etc.) launches a new series with a combination of red herrings, romance and what some readers will consider the bonus of a psychic cat.
A tale of identity and tense personal relationships, one that as a film property would have appealed to Hitchcock or de Palma.
In the first part of the story Marina, the narrator, is drowning in all kinds of ways, for her life is marred by inconsequence. Her relationship with her boyfriend is desultory, and she’s supposedly working on an art history paper on Dante Gabriel Rossetti but has little commitment to the task. At this point in her life she visits her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Gabriel, a volatile novelist. Immediately, an edgy attraction develops between Marina and her brother-in-law. Stella works her job as a landscapist in the small Swedish town near which they live, so she’s away from home much of the time, leaving Gabriel to work on his latest novel and Marina to feel the magnetic pull of his personality. On the surface, Gabriel seems kind and attentive, but Marina senses a deeper friction—hints of physical abuse, for example, and anger out of proportion to the events that gave rise to it. Ultimately, however, Marina willingly gives in to the passion she feels for him, a passion fed by the languorous and oppressive heat of the Swedish summer. The second part of the story skips ahead several months, for the weather, the cold rain of November, is now oppressive in a different way. Marina has returned to the house after Stella’s death by drowning. She had slipped on a rock by a lake and supposedly hit her head, but Marina eventually finds herself open to the possibility that Gabriel had something to do with the “accident”—and she fears that Gabriel’s novel based on Ophelia might have adumbrated his wife’s death.
A slim novel with a taut narrative line and a sense of impending disaster.
If good fences made good neighbors, ad writer Jaine Austen (Pampered to Death, 2011, etc.) would need the Berlin Wall to cope with the nutty crew that surrounds her South Beverly Hills rental.
No, she doesn’t want to hand out campaign flyers for Lila Wood, running for town council on an anti-development platform. Nor does she want to referee the constant fights between Helen and Harold Hurlbutt across the street. Or look at pricey condos in realtors Matt and Kevin Moore’s his-and-hers BMWs. (Despite her manly name, Kevin’s a she.) So how does Jaine get roped into planting petunias for crabby old Eleanor Jenkins, whose 15 minutes of fame as Cryptessa Muldoon in the one-season series I Married a Zombie would be long gone if everyone didn’t keep calling her Cryptessa? Probably because a hungry look from Jaine’s cat, Prozac, sends the actress’ beloved parakeet, Van Helsing, to bird heaven, and Jaine’s a pushover for anything that punches her guilt button. She’s also a pushover for Snickers bars, cinnamon raisin bagels and the cleft on the chin of her newest neighbor, literary agent Peter Connor. Jaine’s bud Lance Venable’s gaydar tells him that Lance isn’t a gene-pool candidate, but Jaine thinks Peter may be close to hitting on her. So she rents a cute flapper outfit for Peter’s Halloween party, only to find that Lance has switched it out for an ape suit—the very same costume Emmeline Owens sees on whoever sticks a “No Trespassing” sign through Cryptessa’s tiny heart. Now Jaine has two puzzles to ponder: Is Peter available or isn’t he, and who’s trying to frame her for murder?
Levine’s latest finds her at her witty and wacky best.