The Fisherman by John Langan
In upstate New York, in the woods around Woodstock, Dutchman’s Creek flows out of the Ashokan Reservoir. Steep-banked, fast-moving, it offers the promise of fine fishing, and of something more, a possibility too fantastic to be true. When Abe and Dan, two widowers who have found solace in each other’s company and a shared passion for fishing, hear rumors of the Creek, and what might be found there, the remedy to both their losses, they dismiss it as just another fish story. Soon, though, the men find themselves drawn into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir. It’s a tale of dark pacts, of long-buried secrets, and of a mysterious figure known as Der Fisher: the Fisherman. It will bring Abe and Dan face to face with all that they have lost, and with the price they must pay to regain it.
This is a classically-built lovecraftian story. The horror builds slowly, the pace of the story allowing the reader to spend plenty of time anticipating the cosmic horror slinking towards them out of the shadows. Through Langan’s writing, the woods of upstate New York take on a timeless, sinister aspect, the very mountains radiating an unfathomable malice. As the pace of the story picks up, the weirdness amplifies in stride, providing he reader with the kinds of cosmic chills Lovecraft was so well known for.
I love these kinds of stories. The kind of evil that simply is, that threatens us simply because we are so insignificant as to be beneath its notice. Langan has also successfully brought this horror to a human scale with sympathetic characters. The evil is unknowable, but it’s effects on ordinary people are not.
Fans of HP Lovecraft and weird horror will definitely enjoy this finely crafted story. Horror aficionados in general will find a lot to love here as well.
Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker
The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s — and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.
It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here…
A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents’ Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen — a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen — and that the nightmare they’ve thought long ended is only beginning.
A Dracula prequel written by a descendant of Bram Stoker?! Sign me up! Unfortunately, I had a great deal of trouble getting into the book, so much so that I nearly gave it up a few times. Why? A few factors. The first is my fault. I saw Dracula and the author and dove in without reading farther. I was therefore a bit disappointed to learn that the story didn’t deal with the Count’s story so much as it did Stoker’s. Second, the book takes quite a while to find its feet and engage the reader. The plot seems to drag along for the first few hundred pages. At 500+ pages, there’s plenty of time for the story to figure itself out, but man…that beginning is rough.
Now I will say, that once the plot begins to pick up, the book is fantastic. Stoker and Barker do a wonderful job keeping to Bram Stoker’s style and maintain a high level of gothic creepiness. Moreover, they have used historically verifiable aspects of Bram Stoker’s life to add realism to the plot. The imagery of the book is also simply fantastic. Bits and pieces strongly reminded me of elements from MR James’ classic ghost stories.
So in sum, I wound up liking this book far more by the end of it than I thought I would. Fans of Stoker’s Dracula and gothic horror in general may want to give it a go…the ending is worth the slog. More casual readers, however, may want to give this one a pass.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Welcome to Romero Park by Amber Michelle Cook
Romero Park is the ancestral home of Edward Dorchester, your classic haughty-yet-troubled gothic noble. It is harvest time, and Dorchester is planning a ball to celebrate the announcement of his engagement. But as the local gentry descend upon the manor, and the servants scramble to get everything in order, a fell moon rises on the proceedings, and a mysterious corruption is slowly working its insidious way through the manor house and grounds.
I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started this book. Let’s face it, the zombie thing is on the decline, and classic-literature-plus-undead is hard to do right. Fortunately, Cook does a fantastic job with Romero Park, giving us both zombie mayhem and Victorian correctness in one package. The book uses the bones of Jane Eyre, and drapes it in rotting flesh and gnashing teeth. The story moves from person to person, flirting with the Brönte plot we know and love, but veering away into wholly original (and very entertaining) territory.
My original beef with the book is that it was largely build-up with little climax. Now that I know the book is the first in a planned trilogy, I can understand the reasons for the pacing. Cook slowly builds up the terror in store, letting us see glimpses of a future calamity, and setting us upon several red herrings. It also lets me appreciate the time the author takes with each of her characters, letting them live and breathe a bit before the undead come knocking.
This book, quite simply, is an enormous amount of fun. You know how the story is supposed to go, and you happily anticipate the chaos of the zombie apocalypse to come. And let’s face it, who hasn’t wanted some version of Blanche Ingram to get eaten by a horde of mindless undead?
If you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and I will confess that I enjoyed this book more), or like a whiff of rotting flesh with your classic literature, this is an incredibly entertaining read. I’m waiting on tenterhooks to see how the story plays out in the next book!
A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
I am on a roll recently with reading these classic horror stories! The Haunting of Hill House (also by Jackson) and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill are classics in the genre for good damn reason, and I was hoping to continue the trend with We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Merricat lives in crumbling Blackwood Manor with her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian. Once the Blackwoods were an admired and socially prominent family–until someone put arsenic in the sugar bowl. Cutting themselves off from hostile townfolk and overly nosy society ladies, the surviving sisters and their Uncle live a strange, reclusive life. Until (naturally) a distant relative with designs on the rumored family fortune comes to call. The increasing disruption of her ordered life causes Merricat to frantically try to set things right again.
As I said before, this book is a classic for a reason. There are tropes and cliches aplently, but you have to remember that this was one of the books that created those tropes. I especially love the voice that Jackson gives to Merricat, only twelve when most of her family was murdered, and growing up increasingly isolated. Now eighteen, she has developed numerous methods, both mental and magical, of keeping herself and her remaining family safe from a hostile world. There is a 1967 movie called Spiderbaby (which stars a young Sid Haig and Lon Chaney Jr.) which strongly reminds me of this book.
What I like most is how normally Merricat’s abnormalities are portrayed. She has grown up in virtual isolation, with no one but her rather insane uncle and suspected-poisoner sister to raise her. As a result, Merricat seems to perpetually exist in a limbo between adulthood and a child-like state. She is the only one in her family capable of shopping for groceries (and selecting weekly library books), but she also believes in the power of charms (such as buried marbles) to keep herself and her family safe.
This is a very short book, only 160 pages, and the perfect size for reading on some gray, drizzly afternoon (preferably with the autumn wind whistling through the thinning leaves and a hot cup of tea by your elbow). If you haven’t yet read this horror classic, I strongly encourage you to move it up to the top of your to-read list in time for Halloween.
The Only Child by Andrew Pyper
Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist. She has dedicated her life to evaluating and understanding the worst people humanity can produce. When she is called in to evaluate a John Doe arrested after brutally mutilating a man, her carefully ordered life begins to unravel. The man claims to be over two hundred years old, and to have inspired the most infamous gothic monsters of the eighteenth century: Dracula, Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein’s monster. When the man escapes, he draws Lily into a twisted game of cat and mouse. Lily must unravel the truth of this dangerous man’s past, and uncover his link to her own shadowed childhood.
This was an interesting take on the standard gothic horror motif. The dangerously supernatural intrudes into the life of a woman determined to be so mundane she is nearly invisible. At the same time, we feel an undercurrent of some unnamable strangeness lurking just beyond Lily’s conciousness. As the novel progresses, we are forced to wonder how much of what is happening is real, and how much might be some repressed part of herself coming to the surface at last.
I will say that some aspects of the novel verge into ridiculous territory. At some points Michael (the monster/madman) is genuinely creepy and terrifying, and at others he seems to lean toward emo-hipsterishness (I was a murderous, blood sucking maniac before it was cool. Also, I’m the one who made it cool). But really, as a gothic villain (and this is a gothic horror at heart) he really has no choice but to wallow in such self-centered psychosis.
In all, this is a good choice for fans of the genre. The writing is a bit flowery at times, which I know can turn some people off, but I personally feel that it fit well with the overall feel of the book. If you like your gothic horror with a fair dose of Silence of the Lambs, then this book is a good fit for you.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.