There should be a term for that suffering unique to readers, what we experience when we crack open a book at sleepy time and it winds up being so good that we stay up for another five hours reading, laughing, and enjoying. Even as we’re doing it, we say, “Ah heck. I’ll deal with my lack of sleep and befuddled brain in the morning, even though I have to write that sixty page report/work the reference desk for six straight hours/run the children’s program about amphibians.”
Grab another cuppa joe. This suffering, this book hangover, needs a name. Bookover?
I had a hellacious bookover after staying up all night reading James Patrick Brotherton’s Reclaiming the Dead. Could. Not. Stop. Got so excited I had to interview him and get his thoughts on the dudely art of writing, books he finds creepy, and pluggin’ chaw.
Then it’s time for BFD’s Halloween canon. Between Jeanne Bogino’s Hi-Def Horror for Halloween: The Top 25 Blu-ray Films, Neal Wyatt’s New Horror for Haunting Season, and romping around in Bookverdict, LJ has you covered for Halloween creepies.
Brotherton, James Patrick. Reclaiming the Dead. CreateSpace. 2012. 186p. ISBN 9781466428454. $12.99 SF
Brotherton’s maiden novel is alternately joyous, wise, wicked, creepy, fun, and compelling, and its three distinct parts vary so wildly in tone and mood that you’ll wonder if all this goodness can come from the same writer. The first is a gloriously madcap adventure starring Merton and his BFF, Coaler. Merton is so far down on his luck that he’s been reduced to selling pints of blood. He’s soon mysteriously recruited as a vampire hunter by “The Bureau” which, Merton happily finds out, encourages him “to pillage and plunder after you reclaim the target.” After Coaler gets as good at plundering as Merton gets at reclaiming, the two settle into a comfortable, if twisted, routine. Their adventures share a fun, testosterone-y energy that’s akin to that in David Wong’s This Book is Full of Spiders. In part two, however, Brotherton kills the buzz as fast as an overachieving cop at spring break. Without spoiling the surprise, the ending is disturbing and unsettling; gross sans gore and familiar without tropes. Readers will be challenged by bleak implications about belief and mistakes. Part three finds Merton—somewhat mystically—joining these two worlds and accomplishing his own personal fulfillment. Wonderfully dynamic and personable, Merton is an entirely different person by the end—and yet he’s still that dude we liked from the beginning.
Grossman, Paul. The Sleepwalkers. St. Martin’s, dist. by MacMillan. 2010. 320p. ISBN 9780312601904. $24.99 FIC
Grossman is a massively talented author specializing in historical fiction in 1930’s Germany, i.e., at the dawn of the Third Reich. As David R. Gillham’s City of Women shows, even a somewhat “normal” novel about that era is infected with nastiness. But Grossman takes it a step further, creating a talented, loyal Jewish detective who is compelled to root out evildoings inevitably traceable to Nazis. In The Sleepwalkers, Willi Kraus finds that Nazis are hypnotizing and kidnapping people for medical experiments; it gets personal when his own girlfriend is taken. Doggedly, and facing enough discrimination to make readers wince, Willi gets one step away from being able to blow the lid off the whole shebang. But readers know how futile that effort is. Part of the appeal is exactly that which usually turns readers off historical fiction—the descriptive passages. But Grossman’s skillful illustrations of Berlin’s streets, rivers, and neighborhoods enhance his explanations of the political machinations and intrigues. Also consider Grossman’s prequel, Children of Wrath, set in 1929 featuring (no kidding) the confluence of a sausage contamination and a spate of missing children.
Hecht, Daniel Puppets. Bloomsbury. 2005. 448 p. $14.95 paperback original Jul. 1, 2005 ISBN: 1-58234-495-7. FIC
It’s not as gore-filled as Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith (Harper, 2003), but it’s close. Mo Ford is a veteran New York State Police homicide detective hunting a killer who strings his victims on wires like marionettes. Weary and run-down from his own personal and professional baggage, Ford pegs the killer as copycatting the Howdy Doody murderer who was put away years ago. Or was he? How could a copycat know about the same kinds of knots to use? Alarm bells go off for Ford when he’s ordered to report his findings to an FBI agent. The more he intuits, the more he suspects an inside job, or at least one related to some old military mind-control experiments gone awry. (Think about it: puppets are the last word in “control.”) While Hecht provides enough gross-out details to satisfy any torture-porn seeker, this is no schloxploitation but a riveting, well-paced mystery. Hecht’s novels starring psychic/psychiatrist/sleuth, Cree Black (Land of Echoes, City of Masks, and Bones of the Barbary Coast) are also well worth reading.
Irwin, Stephen M. The Dead Path. Anchor: Random. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780307739568. pap. $15. FIC
Almost as creepy as Elizabeth and Alex Lluch’s The Ultimate Wedding Planning Guide (Wedding Solutions, 2009), this Australian novel plonks grieving widower Nicholas face-first into a gothic fairy story that sets him up against a supernatural force in the body of a witch. The title refers to a track leading into the proverbial dark wood where weird things happen, including the long-ago murder of Nick’s best friend Tristram and the recent death of a young girl. Reluctantly, Nick investigates but it just gets worse the deeper he goes. A bright light appears in the shapely form of Rowena Quill, local shopkeeper. Damned if there isn’t something familiar about her. Wait, something similar to the story’s skanky, evil witch? And if you ever thought it would be cool to have second sight, think again. All it does for Nick is turn on a perpetual loop of ghosts reliving their violent and untimely deaths. Yes, the book’s full of horrible things. But the most horrible is how Irwin lets readers care about characters whom he then kills. Readers will admire—and be repelled by—Irwin’s images: “Clouds, heavy as slate and swollen like the underbellies of diseased beasts.” Featuring spiders the size of small dogs.
Kirwin, Mary Lou. Killer Librarian. Pocket. 2012.
The femme fatale of this Harlequin-esque book is among the tamest you’ll find, but she’s still a killer librarian. Recently dumped by her early-riser of a plumber boyfriend (“Plumbers get up early, he had explained to me. Toilets wait for no one”), Sunshine Valley librarian Karen Nash decides to go ahead and take the vacation they dreamed up together anyway. Where normal folks do meth and upload homemade porn, this shy, timid chick wants “A bath and a book … [t]he perfect combination of my drugs of choice.” Many long passages affirm Karen’s yearnings for a transformative experience that will leave her milquetoast insecurities behind. It happens magically when she slips on a shawl (yesss! librarians!) to find “[m]y hair had turned darker, my eyes deeper, my skin rosier. I felt as if I had even grown an inch or two. I looked like I knew something secret and divine.” Indeed, just with magical thinking, she becomes “…someone completely different: I was a mystery writer doing research, I was a scorned woman who had railed against her old lover to a stranger in a pub, I was a world traveler who ate scones in the National Gallery.” Never mind that this transformed librarian causes the plumber to be killed. What’s another dead plumber when we’re having a transformation here? Great for when you need to veg out, but even then passages like, “My third and most surprising surprise …” will break the spell.
Long, Jeff. The Descent. Crown. 1999. 450p. ISBN 9780609602935. $24. SF
Q: what do a mountain guide, a beat-up military ‘copter pilot, and a linguistics-loving nun have in common in this book? A: they all become central to making sense of wtf is going on underground—and it’s not good. A horned, humanoid species called Homo hadalis—“hadals” for short—get ten kinds of pissed off when humans get anywhere near them. Sometimes they catch us, whereupon they promptly scare us, torture us and eat us. Here’s the equation: Horns+angry+torture=devils ÷ underground caves=hell. Creepy. Creepier when a megacorporation thinks it’s a license to print money. You’ll just have to bookmark your copy of Jared Brown’s Zero Mostel, A Biography (Atheneum, 1989.) and make room for this.
Lucia, Kevin. Hiram Grange and the Chosen One: The Scandalous Misadventures of Hiram Grange. Shroud Pub. 2010. 178p. ISBN 9780982727508. $7.99. FIC
Goopy, gory, grizzly, bloody monsters, battles, gunplay, explosions. “With a wrenching abdominal thrust, Hiram hacked up mucous and maggots. More things were still inside him, though, slithering down his throat.” And then come the creepy bits, which are even worse than Tara Duggan’s The Working Cook: Fast and Fresh Meals for Busy People (Sterling, 2006). Hiram Grange is like all of we librarians; we’re not anti-social, merely unsocial. When he gets—and fails—an assignment to assassinate someone who holds the key to the disintegration of the universe, a shitstorm follows. Lovecraftian James Bondsian MacGuyverian shenanigans follow. But the best bits feature bloated, slimy-tentacled beasts from The Abyss.