Commendable horror tales that confirm dread can be just as terrifying, if not more so, as whatever’s out there.

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What Really Happened To Emma McCann

AND OTHER DARK TALES

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.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5372-6296-3

Page Count: 200

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel.

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DEATH IN HER HANDS

A note suggesting a woman has been killed in the woods captures the imagination of an elderly woman, with alarming intensity.

Vesta, the extremely unreliable narrator of Moshfegh’s fourth novel (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018, etc.), is a 72-year-old widow who’s recently purchased a new home, a cabin on a former Girl Scout camp. Walking her dog through the nearby woods, she sees a note lying on the ground which says that a woman named Magda has been killed "and here is her dead body," but there's no body there or any sign of violence. Call the police? Too easy: Instead, Vesta allows herself to be consumed with imagining what Magda might have been like and the circumstances surrounding her murder. Whatever the opposite of Occam’s razor is, Vesta’s detective work is it: After some web searching on how mystery writers do their work, she surmises that Magda was a Belarussian teen sent to the United States to work at a fast-food restaurant, staying in the basement of a woman whose son, Blake, committed the murder. Moshfegh on occasion plays up the comedy of Vesta’s upside-down thinking: “A good detective presumes more than she interrogates.” But Vesta slowly reveals herself as what we might now call a Moshfegh-ian lead: a woman driven to isolation and feeling disassociated from herself, looking for ways to cover up for a brokenness she's loath to confront. Over the course of the novel, Vesta’s projections about Magda's identity become increasingly potent and heartbreaking symbols of wounds from the narrator's childhood and marriage. The judgmental voice of her late husband, Walter, keeps rattling in her head, and she defiantly insists that “I didn’t want Walter in my mindspace anymore. I wanted to know things on my own.” You simultaneously worry about Vesta and root for her, and Moshfegh’s handling of her story is at once troubling and moving.

An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel. (This book has been postponed; we'll update the publication date when it's available.)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7935-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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

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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