Sinister beings, human or otherwise, populate this collection of grim, disturbing stories.
The eponymous tale sets the book’s somber tone at the outset: 10-year-old intellectually disabled Emma McCann vanishes from her home in 1974. As in the stories that follow, there’s not only an ominous menace, but an overall hostility as well. Emma’s parents, for example, isolate their unwanted daughter, cared for by domestic servant Harriet Cartwright. The detective investigating the girl’s disappearance suspects her neglectful parents, but semiretired history professor John Durham has already spotted a pattern. Girls have disappeared every 17 years for nearly two centuries, meaning the abductor, or killer, may be something otherworldly. Similarly, in “The Lurker,” Courtney Sheffield’s tormented by Alvin Roach, whose deliberate encounters with her at their mutual workplace escalate into full-blown stalking. He winds up in prison, but his eventual escape sends Courtney into hiding at her sister’s cabin, terrified that he’ll somehow find her. The title character of “The Restlessness of Arvind Mehta” isn’t sure what he’s afraid of, burdened for years by a sense of unease—a feeling that something awful has either happened or will happen. A doctor for a correctional facility, he feels his anxiety may finally be explained when he meets Chester Dean Willits, an ailing serial killer on his deathbed and responsible for 47 murders. Lamb’s (The Fading, 2015) prose is terse and generally metaphor-free, an effective approach that tends to make the horror palpable. When Courtney, for instance, “can feel eyes upon her,” it’s most likely because someone’s actually watching her. “Motel 47” features a rare sign of humor, as Bob Gibson, driving through a severe storm, listens to radio tunes with titles echoing his dire predicament. But even that turns dark when Queen’s “Keep Yourself Alive” pops up. “The Reunion,” meanwhile, initially appears to be the least gloomy of the five stories: widower Bill Miller bumps into a childhood crush just before their upcoming 30-year high school reunion. But it takes a startling turn (or two), while stories with seemingly happy endings are overshadowed by a lingering threat—trepidation might not go away so easily after all.
Commendable horror tales that confirm dread can be just as terrifying, if not more so, as whatever’s out there.