An engaging, intricate horror tale that feels ripped from the pages of a penny dreadful.

THE BLACK GARDEN

An artist gets drawn into the domain of an enigmatic collector in this gothic novel.

In 1882, Miss Perdita Badon-Reed of Boston travels by riverboat down the Mississippi in order to take a teaching position in the tiny, French-inflected backwater of Ste. Odile. Over 40 years old, she just ran away from what was probably the last chance at a respectable marriage in order to pursue her dream career as a sculptor of statues. (That her erstwhile fiance is still reeling from the recent murder of his sister in France only adds to the scandal of her flight.) Perdita’s host in Ste. Odile is her uncle, the parish priest Father Tancred Condell, and her colleague at the school is the naïve but enthusiastic nun Sister Solana. The strange town has its share of characters. Some are tragic, like Marie Chardin, a woman soon to be hung for the murder of her own daughter and whom Perdita befriends out of charity. Some are inspiring, like the abandoned half Black, half Native American Anatolia Montes, one of Perdita’s young students who possesses an incredible talent for her age, even if her drawings often include visions that only she can see. But the most notable resident by far is Orien Bastide, the mysterious scion of the local lead-mining dynasty. Bastide is a philanthropist and art lover, one who eventually extends an invitation to Perdita to see his impressive collection. It is housed at his estate, Jardin Noir, named, as one character explains, for its distinctive flora: “The Black Garden. As I understand it, there has always been an abundance of black oak, black cherry, and black walnut trees, and many flowering plants with darker-hued blossoms. And I am told there is deadly nightshade.” It soon becomes clear that Bastide may be collecting more than art. But does Perdita have the sense to keep herself from becoming his next acquisition?

McFarland’s precise prose evokes the period without ever feeling too stiff or mannered, as here where Sister Solana gushes over Perdita upon meeting her: “A stone sculptor! What a time we are living in that a woman can claim such a profession! Mrs. Wollstonecraft would be proud, don’t you think? That is such a smart walking-about outfit you’re wearing. And that hat is perfect for the shape of your face!” Ste. Odile is richly rendered, a Cajun fever dream that blends nearly all the tropes of Southern and Continental gothic. The book’s fidelity to the literature that inspired it is both its strength and its weakness. The author has mastered the simmering miasma of Victorian horror fiction, whetting readers’ anticipation for terrible things that take chapters and chapters to arrive. The only problem is that when they do appear, they are in no way surprising. This is not a meta take on gothic horror, and McFarland does not have any modern tricks in store. But for those who love a good, old-fashioned, slow-burning novel of the occult, this one more than delivers.

An engaging, intricate horror tale that feels ripped from the pages of a penny dreadful.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951716-22-6

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Dark Owl Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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