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Posts tagged ‘mystery’

The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Image via Bookhills.

Title: The Little Stranger

Author: Sarah Waters

Year of Publication: 2009

Genre Keywords: British, gothic, haunted house, mystery, post-war, psychological thriller, suspense.

Summary: Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that Dr. Faraday becomes involved with the Ayres family living up at Hundreds Hall, where his mother used to work as a nursemaid years ago. The house’s inhabitants are the latest in a long and aristocratic family line: the aging Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children, plain and practical Caroline and shell-shocked Roderick. They work hard to keep the crumbling house afloat, but the days of the aristocracy in Britain have passed. That’s problem enough for any family of British squires, but gradually Dr. Faraday starts to see some particularly strange things unfolding at Hundreds Hall, troubling the family and leaving human tragedy in their wake. Is Hundreds haunted by a ghost? Or by the unstable minds of its own inhabitants?

Who’ll Love It: Fans of a good, atmospheric ghost story will want to wrap themselves up in a nice warm blanket and share this story with a biscuit and a spot of tea – perhaps a good roaring fire if possible. It’s also a fascinating read for anyone who’s interested in the human mind and abnormal psychology. Be warned, though, that this is not the kind of story with a strong and firm conclusion at the end, telling you whether you can chalk up the experiences at Hundreds to ghosts, crazy people, or rats living in the walls. You will be left to draw that conclusion for yourself.

A Wealth of Possibilities: There are so many possible explanations suggested in this particular story, you could probably read it a half-dozen times or more, looking each time for supporting evidence for a wide range of explanations for the Ayres’ troubles. A ghost is the most obvious reading, but even within that there are so many subcategories: demon? poltergeist? ancient ancestor? Caroline and Roderick’s dead sister? Is Roderick generating these phenomena subconsciously as a result of his wartime trauma? Or is Caroline manifesting it to escape from her duties to her family? Is the maid a prankster flying under the radar and destroying the family from within? Is the house itself to blame? A family curse? Or perhaps, as Scully (and Doctor Faraday) would suggest, there’s got to be a logical explanation. I leave it to you, dear reader, to ferret out the truth.

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Lost on the Darkside: Voices from the Edge of Horror

Lost on the Darkside: Voices from the Edge of Horror, edited by John Pelan

Image via The SF Site.

Title: Lost on the Darkside: Voices from the Edge of Horror

Editor: John Pelan

Year of Publication: 2005

Genre Keywords: anthology, horror, mystery, short stories, suspense, thriller.

Summary: A selection of tales from the self-proclaimed masters of terror, ranging from the gory to the supernatural to the psychological. The common unifying theme seems to be the concept of an evil side to reality that fascinates us and draws us in, even when we’d be smarter to look away – a rather interesting comment on the horror genre itself. Stories include:

  • “At the Circus of the Dead” by Tony Richards – A very unsavory circus act that traffics in death and dismemberment. So why won’t anybody walk away?
  • “This Body of Death” by Maria Alexander – A sexy story about a demonic love affair, where it’s the darkness that draws our heroine in . . . but at what cost?
  • “The Blood of Ink” by Joseph A. Ezzo – Lionel doesn’t know why he’s so irritated by his business partner’s habit of fidgeting with his fancy, expensive pen. But when he steals the pen as a prank, he discovers it’s more than he bargained for.
  • “Unblinking” by Ramsey Campbell – A university professor finds himself increasingly obsessed with his elderly neighbour in a chilling chronicle of the descent into paranoia.
  • “The Dirty People” by David B. Silva – When a writer begins to see neighbours silhouetted in the attic of the vacant house next door, he assumes somebody must have moved in, but instead faces the nightmare of decay – both in the house next door and within his own brain.
  • “Glyphotech” by Mark Samuels – Franklyn Crisk has an ordinary job in an ordinary cubicle until the day his company invites him (and his colleagues) to a motivational seminar at Glyphotech. When he chooses to walk away from the company’s cultlike tactics, he becomes a target . . . and the choice may cost him more than just his job.
  • “Spider Dream” by Michael Reaves – Pretty much what it sounds like. Except what if it was a dream from which you couldn’t wake? If each time you woke, you found yourself inside the same nightmare, getting worse?
  • “Behind the Masque” by Jeffrey Thomas – Upon the death of his eccentric boss, Rod finds himself charged with getting rid of the man’s strangest possessions: a number of clones who have the DNA of their famous progenitors, but not the talent that brought them immortality.
  • “Last Stop” by John Pelan – A librarian repelled by a particular homeless man who comes to the reading room to get warm finds himself obsessed, following the stranger to a horrifying end.
  • “A Bottle of Egyptian Night” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson – An aging single woman with a peculiar love for curiosity shops comes into possession of a seemingly ordinary ink bottle with a mysterious ability to introduce her to the mysteries of the hereafter.
  • “Roadside Memorials” by Joseph Nassise – A paramedic becomes fascinated by the human habit of erecting a little cross or leaving flowers at the site of a fatal accident . . . and both transfixed and repelled when he learns that the tradition may be less human than he’d supposed.
  • “Comforts of Home” by Michael Laimo – The other homeless men think Charlie is a freak because he feeds the stray cats around the area. Then again, cats are good friends to have in a time of crisis.
  • “The Call of Farther Shores” by David Niall Wilson – Returning home after his father’s death, Jeremy finds himself moving beyond the memories of his childhood and into the history of a seafaring artifact from the local barber shop.
  • “Our World, How Fragile” by Paul Melniczek – A seemingly purposeless chase scene leads Robert to a very abrupt and unexpected end.
  • “The Crawl” by Gerard Houarner – A violent ritual of redemption drives Dylan to hope that maybe he can find peace at last. But can he embrace the forgiveness? Or will the darkness draw him in?

Who’ll Love It: Fans of horror fiction in any form will find something here to intrigue them. Some of the stories contain elements of bloodier, gooier “gross fiction”, I’ll admit, while others are much more cerebral; there’s a genuine mix that means everyone is likely to find something here that will horrify them, and perhaps also something that will turn them off, which is the risky part of a horror anthology like this.

Want More? This is the fourth in a series of horror anthologies edited by the same John Pelan. Check out Darkside: Horror for the Next Millennium, A Walk on the Darkside: Visions of Horror, and The Darker Side: generations of Horror (which won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology). The nice thing about short story anthologies is that you’re not compelled to read them in order to understand what’s happening; each one is sweetly self-contained.

The God Project

The God Project by John Saul

Image via the State Library of Ohio.

Title: The God Project

Author: John Saul

Year of Publication: 1982

Genre Keywords: conspiracy, genetics, horror, medicine, mystery, psychological thriller, suspense, techno-thriller, thriller.

Summary: When Baby Julie dies of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), it’s a terrible tragedy that’s hard for anybody to understand. But her mother struggles more than anyone to reconcile herself to the sudden, unexpected loss. In fact, Sally doesn’t believe that “sometimes babies just die” – she thinks there must be some unknown reason for Julie’s death. Searching for answers (in defiance of all the family members who think she must be unhinged) leads Sally to Lucy Corliss, a mother whose son Randy has gone missing. The women learn that their children are subjects in a mysterious medical study for which none of them gave consent, leading them to a sinister patient list with some strange commonalities – all children, all born from unplanned pregnancies that began with a failed IUD, all delivered by the same OB/GYN . . . and all disappearing or dying.

Who’ll Love It: Are you suspicious of the medical industry, the many pharmaceuticals we’re given, the studies that claim to give us all the answers? You’ll definitely find this worldview confirmed in this dramatic “trust-no-one” tale. But even if you’re a confirmed believer in modern medicine – and I am, because I’m nearly thirty years old and nobody considers me an end-of-life hag as they would’ve  in the Dark Ages – the appropriate suspension of disbelief can make this a fun conspiracy read without a deeper message.

Reality Check: Contrary to Sally’s assertions, which turn out to be correct in the world of story, sometimes babies do just die. Though it made for an enthralling story, I would hate for women whose babies die suddenly to get stuck with an added burden of guilt or confusion while they’re already suffering a tremendous loss. Parents can reduce the risk of SIDS, but since science can’t really tell us what causes it, there’s a limit to how  much we can do to control it. Some doctors theorize that there may be some sort of in-born malfunction in the body that leads to SIDS. But we can be reasonably sure it wasn’t put there by a sinister medical consortium.

The Lost Symbol

Cover art for The Lost Symbol

Image via Knopf Doubleday.

Title: The Lost Symbol

Author: Dan Brown

Year of Publication: 2010

Genre Keywords: action/adventure, archaeology, CIA, conspiracy theory, Freemasonry, kidnapping, metaphysics, mystery, religion, symbology, thriller.

Summary: Now-famous symbology professor Robert Langdon is invited to give a last-minute lecture in Washington, D.C. . . . but when he gets there, he finds he’s been tricked by a violent madman in need of a symbologist who can deliver the closely-guarded Masonic pyramid, crack its code, and lead him to the human race’s greatest source of wisdom, guarded for centuries by the Freemasons. If Langdon can decipher this high-stakes puzzle, his mentor Peter Solomon goes free; if Langon fails, Solomon dies. Langdon enlists the aid of Solomon’s sister Katherine, a scientist on the verge of a major breakthrough in Noetic Science, to try to solve the puzzle posed by the Masonic Pyramid.

Who’ll Love It: Any thriller fans will eat up the standard roller-coaster plot with the twists and turns typical of Dan Brown. But Brown has stepped up his game to create a genuinely well-written mystery full of interesting scientific and philosophical information and even a few touches of sparkling humour. It has a quality of storytelling that his past works have lacked, which makes the “intellectual thriller” a lot more thrilling as a puzzle for clever readers who enjoy solving mysteries or reflecting on ideas but have, in the past, been turned off by Brown’s stilted style. If a literary snob like me loved this story, who wouldn’t?

Is That Real? Dan Brown throws a lot of weird-but-true facts into The Lost Symbol. You can check out a scattering of them here on his web site. And that’s only the beginning!  Katherine’s area of expertise, noetic sciences, actually exists. A Google search on Freemasons can open a door bigger than anything I can link to here. And Brown makes a point of noting  that “all rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real”. The Lost Symbol can be the inspiration for further reading about a lot of fascinating (and fantastically strange!) stuff. Find out what’s fact and what’s fiction!

A Masonic symbol carved in stone

Image via Debate It Out.

Cradle and All

Cradle and All

Image via Fantastic Fiction UK.

Title: Cradle and All

Author: James Patterson

Year of Publication: 2000

Genre Keywords: action/adventure, apocalypse, Catholic thriller, demons, drama, mystery, religion, supernatural, suspense.

Summary: At a time when the news is filled with horrible epidemics and tragedies, something very different comes to light – the story of two teenage girls, both virgins and both pregnant. Ex-nun Anne Fitzgerald investigates the situation, trying to figure out which girl is lying and which one could be carrying the Second Coming of Christ. Or is it the Devil’s turn to send somebody into the world? As she tries to sort out the implications of these two seemingly miraculous pregnancies, she struggles to keep her emotions out of the equation – her genuine affection for both girls as well as her growing desire for the attractive priest who first caused her to question her vows.

Who’ll Love It: If you like the apocalyptic thriller genre, but you also like a story with some emotional depth, this book blends the two admirably. Rather than employing gore and graphic detail, Patterson creates tension in the story by depicting the characters’ emotional investments in one another.

Crazy Resonance: As a young girl – seven or eight years old, perhaps – a Chris de Burgh song led me to consider whether the Second Coming would take place in 2000. I calculated that I would be seventeen that year and wondered whether I might be the next Virgin Mary. Not joking. That really happened. My first memory of thinking about it takes place in a parking lot at White Rose. I think it was winter. Seriously, people!

If you’re interested in hearing the song, it’s worth looking at this fan video somebody made on YouTube. Actually, even if you’re  not interested, it’s got some lovely images of the Northern Lights.

Prom Dates From Hell

Cover art for "Prom Dates from Hell"  by Rosemary Clement-Moore.

Image courtesy of Teens at Random from Random House.

Title: Prom Dates from Hell

Author: Rosemary Clement-Moore

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: demons, friendship, girl power, high school, horror, mystery, popularity, prom, suspense, teen, young adult fiction.

Plot Summary: Maggie Quinn, a sharp-tongued  and strong-minded journalist for her high-school paper, has no great love for the petty dramas of high school, especially those manifested by her school’s popular clique, the Jocks and the Jessicas. (Yes, all the pretty, perfect cheerleaders at Avalon High are actually named Jessica.) Then, in the last few months of school, she starts noticing strange things happening to her popular classmates – bad things. And the cause seems to be supernatural. Maggie has always been told she might have some of her ancestors’ fabled second sight, but it will take more than just strong intuition to battle what looks like a demon from Hell. With the help of a clever science teacher and a particularly good-looking local university student, and of course with her own clever wits and powers of observation, can Maggie rescue the Jocks and the Jessicas from disaster? And if she can . . . should she?

Who’ll Love It: Anyone who loved the brains and bravery of Nancy Drew, but always wished she had a bit more of an attitude . . . and that the ghosts in her mysteries actually turned out to be ghosts. Maggie Quinn even compares herself to Nancy from time to time, and the parallels are definitely apt, but Maggie is definitely an updated form to appeal to modern readers in an age of wisecracks and girl power.

Fun Trivia: This is just the first book featuring fearless demon detective and journalist-in-progress Maggie Quinn. Follow her through the college sorority scene in Hell Week, then on to spring break in Highway to Hell. Apparently, unlike Nancy Drew, this girl detective actually ages over time!

Look at some of the spiritual and supernatural issues in Prom Dates from Hell at my paranormal blog, The Shadow Side.

Zombie Blondes

Cover art for "Zombie Blondes" by Brian James

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk.

Title: Zombie Blondes

Author: Brian James

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: friendship, high school, horror, mystery, popularity, suspense, teen, young adult fiction, zombies.

Plot Summary: Hannah has spent her whole life moving from town to town, and she’d love the chance to fit in somewhere – but for the new girl, that’s almost always impossible. In her new town, though, she might have a chance; the popular cheerleaders are taking an interest in her. Unfortunately, her uncool friend Lukas wants her to believe that the cheerleaders and football players – even some ordinary townsfolk! – are actual zombies, the kind he reads about in his horror comics. Hannah figures that’s crazy . . . although it’s true that the identical cheerleaders will ask her to alter her appearance, devote herself to the squad, and even change her name. But is that really too great a sacrifice when Hannah will finally get a chance to fit in?

Who’ll Love It: Anyone who remembers what it’s like to yearn for popularity and acceptance. It’s easy to see that Hannah is walking into trouble, but Brian James does a great job portraying the way Hannah’s desire to be popular overrides her critical thinking, so she finds herself making excuses and rationalizing whatever sets off warning flags in her head.

When I picked up this book I wondered whether Brian James, being male, could pull off writing about the world of high-school girl-fighting. After all, female social arrangements don’t really work the same as male ones. But either he has an inside source or he’s extraordinarily observant: I thought he nailed all the hidden cattiness and manipulation that comes with girl-bullying.

Fun Trivia: If you Google “Zombie Blondes”, theresult that comes up under ‘image search’ is pretty unusual – it features the same title-page image over and over again. It’s positively creepy . . . but I think it goes with the subject matter of the book perfectly. Try it and see what you think.

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