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Posts tagged ‘suspense’

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.

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.

Scary Library: My Favourite Hallowe’en Reads

It’s the week of Hallowe’en, and in the spirit of the season, I’m spending the week blogging about the world of the ghoulish, the macabre, and the haunting in a series I’ve titled “Scary Library”. (Get it? It rhymes!)

To kick things off, I thought it was only fair to give a sampling of the stories I’ve read and loved in the past. You  may have surmised from my “What’s Your Librarian Reading?” posts that I’m a bit of a horror story fan. So, if you came into my library and asked me about some of my personal favourites, what would I say? Here, in no particular order, are my top ten choices.
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The Fury

The Fury by John Farris

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: The Fury

Author: John Farris

Year of Publication: 1976

Genre Keywords: action-adventure, conspiracy, horror, paranormal, psychic, suspense, teen, telekinesis, thriller.

Summary: Gillian is a level-headed, perfectly normal teenager from a wealthy and powerful family . . . until a serious fever awakens the psychic powers she’s been burying since childhood. Robin is deeply aware of the powers he’s always had, even if he has to conceal them around the fanatically religious relatives caring for him. Now that the teens are beginning to explore astral projection, clairvoyance, and telekinetic powers, government agencies have started to take notice. Will they be able to harness Robin and Gillian’s potential for the sake of national security? Or will the teens’ potentially lethal abilities leave government officials shooting to kill? Just to add a layer of complexity, Robin’s father has discovered how the government wants to use his son, and he’d do anything to save Robin from their clutches. He’s fighting for his son’s life, but the body count is rising and time is running out.

Who’ll Love It: Anybody who likes their horror stories X-Files-style, with a side order of conspiracy-theories-come-true. The imagery is truly macabre and honestly a little bit gory, and the fact that it was current in the 1970s makes it almost period fiction by this point.

Beyond Books: For horror-film buffs, check out the classic film adaptation of The Fury, directed by Brian de Palma.

Creature

Creature

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Creature

Author: John Saul

Year of Publication: 1989

Genre Keywords: conspiracy, corporate, experiments, Frankenstein, high school, horror, medicine, popularity, science, sports, suspense, techno-thriller, teen, thriller.

Summary: A corporate promotion lands the Tanner family in a gorgeous company town nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Everything there seems perfect . . . but is it a little too perfect? The family’s eldest son, Mark Tanner, doesn’t have a chance to think about it; he’s too busy not fitting in. Short and scrawny in a high school full of athletic superstars, he’d rather be exploring nature or caring for his pet rabbits than roughhousing on the football field. Still, when the local sports clinic offers to help him boost his growth, he decides he’s tired of being the runt of the litter and signs on for a treatment program. Maybe that’s not the best idea, though, because it seems like one of the other boys getting treated is growing out of control, in every sense of the word.

Who’ll Love It: It’s not technical or scientific enough that people with no background will be lost, nor is it saturated in sports jargon so that you have to understand football to follow the action. Rather, it’s a story with fairly universal themes and a fairly wide appeal amongst horror fans (which, granted, is a fairly specialized genre to begin). Be prepared to marvel at the callousness of the sports clinic’s employees and the corporation running the town.

Themes for Thought: The Frankenstein medical-science theme is obvious – a classic cautionary tale about delving into science without enough respect for human life. But are there other cautionary tales here? Sports can be a deep obsession in North America, leading to physical and psychological injury for players and those who aren’t able to compete. (Consider the ever-expanding archetypal tale of popular athletes picking on the nerds and misfits.) And on a more literal level, think about all the stories in the news lately about athletes caught doctoring their bodies with performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the fictional medicine described in the novel is representative of ethical boundaries being breached in the sports world every day. Think about it . . .

Ultimatum

Ultimatum by Matthew Glass

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Ultimatum

Author: Matthew Glass

Year of Publication: 2009

Genre Keywords: China, climate change, disaster story, environment, futuristic, geopolitics, global warming, political science, politics, suspense, White House.

Summary: Not long after being elected President of the United States of America in 2032, Joe Benson learns an inconvenient truth: escalating feedbacks from climate change are going to mean an accelerated descent into disaster for the planet. Already planning to relocate millions of coast-dwellers, he’s got to start from scratch creating plans to move even more people to higher ground. But that’s not the worst problem: emissions aren’t yet under control, and to prevent even worse damage from taking place, the polluting has to stop NOW. That means striking a deal with the world’s other superpower, the reluctant Chinese, who seem prepared to do everything within their power to stall negotiation and avoid change. How far will Benson have to go to ensure Chinese co-operation? Could it really end in war?

Who’ll Love It: Armchair politicians, political scientists, China watchers, America watchers, and global-warming-watchers. Anybody who’s got a fascination with the psychology of political machinations will enjoy the rare glimpse into the presidential mind, particularly since Joe Benson is a likable character even when he’s making a decision you disagree with.

Cameos from the 2030s: Part of the fun of the book is reading it from our turn-of-the-century perspective. Glass makes some notable  hypothetical predictions – a second 9/11 in 2015, for instance – and also guesses how the future will judge notable contemporary figures like Obama, Bush Junior, and Al Gore. I note cheerfully that Sarah Palin seems to have been completely forgotten by 2032.

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