Although Irwin packs his debut novel with fairy-tale and horror-story motifs, the results are lamentably tame.

THE DEAD PATH

A haunted woods, an old witch and the death of several children over a century and a half—Irwin writes a cautionary fairy tale but sets it in contemporary Australia.

Life seems good to Nicholas Close, for he and his wife Cate are very much in love and refurbishing an apartment in London. But one fateful afternoon Cate has a freak accident at home—she falls and dies. Mourning her loss deeply, Nicholas returns to the place where he grew up, in Tallong, a suburb of Brisbane. It turns out that during his childhood there had been the mysterious disappearance and murder of Tristram Boye, a friend of his, and now, on his return, other unnatural things start to happen—a child goes missing, for example, and the brother of his childhood friend shows up on Nicholas’s porch and commits suicide. Not only that, but Nicholas is now literally haunted by ghosts—he becomes able to see people dying. There’s also something uncanny in one of the stores that during Nicholas’s childhood had been run by a creepy old woman. Now Rowena Quill, enigmatic and extremely attractive, runs a health-food store in the same building…but somehow she looks hauntingly familiar. In addition, the woods near this store have long had a spooky and sinister reputation, going back at least till the time when Tristram’s body was discovered. Nicholas starts to poke around in the woods and makes some startling discoveries, some involving spiders the size of small dogs and others involving ritual child-killing to extend the age of a witch. As Nicholas tries to make sense of all this, others inevitably get involved, including his sister, a couple of Anglican clerics, a ten year old who could be the next victim and The Green Man, a menacing pagan deity.

Although Irwin packs his debut novel with fairy-tale and horror-story motifs, the results are lamentably tame.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-53343-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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