A surprising and insightful horror tale.

FINCHES

A woman attempts to reclaim a haunted Malaysian house in this debut novella.

Grandmother Jah has returned to her former residence in a small village at the edge of Kuala Lumpur. It is the house she shared with her husband, Ghani, before she left him for taking a second, younger wife. She has returned only now that Ghani and the second wife are dead and the building stands empty. Jah is sure she can feel their continued presence—footsteps, breathing, even the sensation of being grabbed—but she merely curses them and demands that they leave the house to her. With the help of her granddaughter Khatijah and the girl’s boyfriend, Loong, Jah brings in a Buddhist nun and a Malay shaman to purify the house, but the spirits persist. Jah’s family wants her to forget the house and move on, but she insists on salvaging what she believes to be hers. As the story is told and retold from the perspectives of several characters—including Khatijah; her mother, Fatimah; her uncle Rahim; and Ghani himself—the haunting slowly comes into focus, along with the causes of Jah’s obstinacy. Can a broken home ever be cleared of its ghosts, or will the events of the past continue to haunt a place long after the participants have gone? Muffaz writes claustrophobic prose that draws attention to the story’s creepy details, as here where Rahim observes the trees outside the house that Jah has ordered him to chop down: “Rahim looked up at his father’s mango trees, each approaching twenty years old. The tallest trees soared above the house, with the smallest among them double his height and triple his girth. Fire ants blanketed the overripe fruit, so the mangoes appeared to bleed without spilling a drop.” The shifts in time and perspective add to the story’s unease, which is less interested in spooking readers than analyzing the deeper fault lines of the family’s drama. The author explains in her (mostly unnecessary) introduction that her goal was to explore the grief caused by Malaysia’s tolerance of polygamy, and the result is a captivating tale that should please fans of American gothic while introducing rich new elements.

A surprising and insightful horror tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952283-16-1

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Vernacular Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2021

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All of Pendergast’s adventures are weird and wonderful fun, and this is no exception.

BLOODLESS

FBI Special Agent Pendergast and his cohorts face great peril as they try to find out what’s bleeding a Georgia city dry.

In 1971, the mysterious hijacker D.B. Cooper parachutes from a commercial airliner with a bundle of cash in the remote northwest and is never heard from again. A half-century later, Aloysius X.L. Pendergast and colleague Armstrong Coldmoon are sent to Savannah, Georgia, to investigate a “most peculiar incident”: a body has washed ashore with nary a drop of blood left in the corpse. A reader’s first thought might be What’s that got to do with an old hijacking? Leave it to the imaginations of Preston and Child to eventually make the delightfully strange connection. Pendergast looks every bit the stereotypical undertaker, not at all fitting the FBI mold. He brings along his adult “ward,” Constance Greene, who brings her stiletto everywhere she goes. Meanwhile, bloodless bodies accumulate. Who could possibly be committing these frightful atrocities? And why only in Savannah? That one’s easy: because it’s a spooky old city “with its gnarled trees and crooked houses,” and everything about the plot is spooky and surreal. A film crew prepares to create a phony documentary in a graveyard using smoke machines and showing callous disregard for the dead. A scheming U.S. senator frets that the rapid escalation in ghastly violence will hurt his reelection prospects, and he pressures the FBI for a rapid solution. Unfortunately, the killer makes an unholy mess of the city, sucking out its Southern charm along with plenty of blood. He—she—let’s settle on it—turns the tale into one of more horror than crime. Without Pendergast’s perspicacity, Coldmoon’s competence, and Constance’s cojones (figuratively, of course), that old city of mint juleps would be a smoking hole in the ground. And readers wouldn’t learn about D.B. Cooper’s fate. The authors’ imaginations run unfettered as they travel to unearthly locales, but in the end it comes down to beleaguered Savannah.

All of Pendergast’s adventures are weird and wonderful fun, and this is no exception.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-3670-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.

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THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES

Things are about to get bloody for a group of Charleston housewives.

In 1988, the scariest thing in former nurse Patricia Campbell’s life is showing up to book club, since she hasn’t read the book. It’s hard to get any reading done between raising two kids, Blue and Korey, picking up after her husband, Carter, a psychiatrist, and taking care of her live-in mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who seems to have dementia. It doesn’t help that the books chosen by the Literary Guild of Mt. Pleasant are just plain boring. But when fellow book-club member Kitty gives Patricia a gloriously trashy true-crime novel, Patricia is instantly hooked, and soon she’s attending a very different kind of book club with Kitty and her friends Grace, Slick, and Maryellen. She has a full plate at home, but Patricia values her new friendships and still longs for a bit of excitement. When James Harris moves in down the street, the women are intrigued. Who is this handsome night owl, and why does Miss Mary insist that she knows him? A series of horrific events stretches Patricia’s nerves and her Southern civility to the breaking point. (A skin-crawling scene involving a horde of rats is a standout.) She just knows James is up to no good, but getting anyone to believe her is a Sisyphean feat. After all, she’s just a housewife. Hendrix juxtaposes the hypnotic mundanity of suburbia (which has a few dark underpinnings of its own) against an insidious evil that has taken root in Patricia’s insular neighborhood. It’s gratifying to see her grow from someone who apologizes for apologizing to a fiercely brave woman determined to do the right thing—hopefully with the help of her friends. Hendrix (We Sold Our Souls, 2018, etc.) cleverly sprinkles in nods to well-established vampire lore, and the fact that he’s a master at conjuring heady 1990s nostalgia is just the icing on what is his best book yet.

Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68369-143-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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