It’s Not Just a Job.
It’s the Rest of Your Life.
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In the heart of industrial Cuyahoga County, Ohio, lies a big box store called Orsk—the concrete heart of darkness. An all-American furniture store offering sub-Ikea prices for comparable products, Orsk is a pseudo-Scandinavian home-outfitting mecca, complete with couches with names like Brooka, mass produced textiles and bedframes, as well as questionable cafe meats.
Oh, and ghosts.
You see, Orsk isn’t just your regular, run-of-the-mill superstore. It’s your run-of-the-mill superstore built on the ground that used to house a depraved, torture-mill of a prison.
For Orsk employees Amy Porter, Trinity Park, Matt McGrath, Ruth DeSoto and Basil Washington, an off-the-books shift prowling for vandals quickly turns into a night of horror. The vengeful, twisted spirit of the prison’s former warden knows that the veil between the physical and spirit worlds is wearing thin; with fresh meat, it’s only a matter of time before the darkness overtakes Orsk and all the living souls within.
Well, color me happy. Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör is a traditional haunted location story with a superstore twist: The book itself is beautifully contained in an Ikea catalog-esque package. With a trim size and color scheme—not to mention kitschy Scandinavian names for items—mimicking the Swedish homestore’s iconic look and feel, Horrorstör is a delightful, tongue-in-cheek reading experience at the most superficial level. (Kudos to publisher Quirk Books for nailing the package: The final book includes order forms, maps, and even some fake coupons.)
Beyond the physical appearance of the book, I am also extremely delighted to report that Horrorstör excels as a horror novel on its own. The actual haunting story is familiar and plays with some classic tropes: set on land where great atrocities have happened in the past, the ghosts of the past come to terrorize the living, the living try to escape but find that they are trapped in a bubble universe outside of their own, etc. In many ways, Horrorstör is reminiscent of the insane asylum ghost-hunting horror film Grave Encounters (which I highly recommend if you’re into the Haunted Location Without Any Hope of Exit type of ghost story)—same type of malicious building with a past, same type of torturous ghosts with twisted remedies for perceived human maladies. I loved the backstory for Horrorstör, with its zealot warden-ghost, who has devoted his life (and afterlife, as luck would have it) to curing his inmate charges of their ills. For example, Orsk employee (and Horrorstör protagonist) Amy is incapable of slowing down or thinking through her decisions, so her ghostly remedy is a painful restraining chair (called Bodavest, in Orsk-speak) that will constrict Amy’s bloodflow from the brain until she is finally still. That’s probably the calmest of the remedies—there’s also a never-stopping treadmill to which one’s hands are nailed in, plenty of eye-gouging tools, and other painful self-mutilatory material.
On the character front, Horrorstör also plays with familiar tropes and executes them to near perfection. Heroine and central figure Amy is a 24-year-old woman with a huge chip on her shoulder. I like that she’s so inherently unlikable to begin with, then progresses with her fantastic story arc to actually care about other people and put aside her own ample baggage. There’s also the popular/manic/pixie girl (who of course believes in and wants to contact the spirits), the poor sod who is really into said girl, a sweet matronly figure (who has a proportionately horrific encounter and end), as well as a misunderstood floor manager who just wants everyone to embrace Orsk’s core values and get along. They all play very nicely together and off of each other in Horrorstör—I especially love the interactions between Amy and boss Basil.
Looking for something fun and horrific to read before Halloween rolls around? Or do you delight in superbly clever packaging? Have you always felt like there’s something else in those Ikea meatballs?
Give Horrorstör a try.
In Book Smugglerish, 7 out of 10.