In this month’s fantastic selection we see obsession driven to madness, a reimagining of the Kilkenny witch trial, the weird stories of William Hope Hodgson, folk horror in the remote Scottish highlands, John Langan’s new short story collection, the devil’s corrupting influence, and much more.
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver
The third of novelist Michelle Paver’s horror books, together with Dark Matter (2010) and Thin Air (2016), Wakenhyrst goes full-Gothic: a female protagonist oppressed by her early 1900s patriarchal society, an obsessed-to-the-point-of-madness medieval historian who has a buried secret, and an old manor house set in the thickly-atmospheric and marshy English Fens. It’s a brilliant book, and you can learn more about it and the strange things that inspired it in my recent interview with Michelle Paver.
Ghost Stories (NHB Modern Plays) by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Ghost Stories, a play by Jeremy Dyson (of The League of Gentlemen) and Andy Nyman (actor, writer, director, works with Derren Brown on his magic shows) first appeared on stage in 2010, managing to scare and surprise audiences through never giving too much away in advance. If you haven’t heard of the stage version, you’ve almost certainly come across the film adaptation from 2017 featuring a hit cast of British actors. It tells the story of a parapsychologist and sceptic, Philip Goodman, who’s called out to investigate three supernatural cases that challenge Goodman’s scepticism. Now, you can read the script of the stage version together with an introduction by Dyson and Nyman.
Her Kind by Niamh Boyce
I’m a sucker for witchy fiction and this second novel from Irish writer Niamh Boyce (The Herbalist, 2013) delves into a historical witch trial I don’t know anything about. The book is inspired by the story of Alice Kyteler and her servant, Petronilla, both of who were accused of witchcraft in Kilkenny, the first recorded condemnation of its type in Ireland. Alice Kyteler managed to flee while Petronilla was burned at the stake in 1324. Boyce’s novel takes us back to the fourteenth century and reimagines the events leading up to the trial. Kyteler gets a mention in Yeats’ poem, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.
The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson (British Library)
Another title in the increasingly brilliant British Library Tales of the Weird series, William Hope Hodgson produced a lot in his time – novels, short stories, poems, essays – and is a significant figure in British weird fiction. H.P. Lovecraft mentions Hodgson a great deal in his various published letters, saying “Have read all three Hodgson books — and sink me if they aren’t magnificent” and “I surely have become a premier Hodgson fan!” This volume, edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes, collects some of Hodgson’s weirdest stories.
Little Eve by Catriona Ward
The paperback release of Catriona Ward’s novel of last year, Little Eve is a sublime piece of literary fiction that is part Gothic thriller, part folk horror, and part murder mystery. Set in the highlands of Scotland on a remote isle playing host to strange pagan rituals, the book pieces together the events leading up to a bloody murder through dual narrators and you’re never quite sure what is fact and what is fiction. Ward is a really quite brilliant writer and, long before Sublime Horror existed and shortly after the publication of her debut novel Rawblood, I interviewed her in Oxford – the transcription (and link to a video) was the first thing I published here: interview with Catriona Ward.
Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud
A collection of six hellish pieces of short fiction from Nathan Ballingrud (author of North American Lake Monsters, described by Jeff VanderMeer as one of his favourite short fiction writers), featuring the novella The Visible Filth, which is the basis of the upcoming film Wounds (premiered earlier this year) which Netflix is said to be distributing worldwide. This collection has been receiving a great deal of positive press, the Chicago Review of Books including it amongst their list of the best new books of April.
All My Colors by David Quantick
David Quantick is perhaps best known for writing for TV, with his name appearing on the credits for shows such as Veep, The Thick of It, and The Day Today (as well as a number of other shows with British dark-humoured satirist Chris Morris). Quantick brings this background in comedy to All My Colors, described by its publisher as a “darkly witty horror tale”, about Todd Milstead, a writer who possesses an eidetic memory and can recall and quote from a hugely successful book, from front to back, that only he seems to be able to remember. In an attempt to profit from this situation, he attempts to submit this work as his own which is when all of his problems begin to arise.
The Last to See Me by M. Dressler
M. Dressler’s ghost story The Last to See Me was originally released in 2017, so this paperback version seems a long-time coming for a book that was a Kindle bestseller. I don’t think this is Dressler’s first novel as her bio describes her as a “critically-acclaimed author of novels, novellas”, however, it’s the only one I can see reference to online. It’s a story of a young woman, now a ghost, having died over one hundred years ago, in a world where ghosts are a known but unwelcome entity. A ghost hunter comes to the home Emma has inhabited since her death to drive her away, and now she enters a battle to save what (un)life she has left. There’s life in the ghost story yet.
Sefira and Other Betrayals by John Langan
A new collection from the award-winning author of 2016’s The Fisherman, which won the Bram Stoker Award for best novel, named after the title story Sefira, a novella “about a woman who is chasing a succubus across the United States”. Many of these stories have been published in anthologies elsewhere with “betrayal” being the theme that ties them together. This is sure to be one of the year’s best horror anthologies.
A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig
This sounds delightfully weird – an exploration of the “creative, confessional, corrupting” influences of fiction. Set in an Alpine town where everyone is a writer, the devil arrives in a black car “claiming to be a hot-shot publisher” and “unsatisfied authorial desires are unleashed, and the village’s former harmony is shattered.” Paolo Maurensig is an Italian author who I know from his 1996 novel Canone Inverso about a particular violin and the stories of its various owners – it was made into a film in 2000.
The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
Whilst I have started reading this book, I am only a few chapters in, so I shall defer to a US bookseller who provides this neat summary: “When mutilated bodies start to show up in the small town of Four Paths in rural upstate New York, the townsfolk know it can only mean one thing. The Gray is back. Existing on an alternate plane, The Gray (not unlike the Demogorgon/Upside Down in Stranger Things) has been terrorizing the town since its inception but the founding families of Four Paths have always been able to keep it from crossing over. This time familial dark secrets could hinder the town and allow The Gray to break through, and it’s up to four teen descendants of the founders to put aside differences and keep the terror at bay. Gripping and terrifying, The Devouring Gray will have you sleeping with one eye open, if at all.” – Javier Ramirez, The Book Table (Oak Park, IL)
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