A family on a day out to celebrate July 4th experiences the unthinkable.
One thing I’m perpetually fascinated by is the concept that we can never truly know other people, even those we might feel close to. All we can ever know is our own experience of their behaviours. We may even be able to predict those behaviours to a reliable, comfortable degree but when those predictions fail – when someone confounds our expectations, acts out of character – then we find this deeply disturbing.
In 2016, Orenda Books published Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories, a mystery shot through with elements of horror. It was one of the first novels to use the conceit of a true crime podcast to inform its structure: the story is told through episode transcripts, with the show’s host, Scott King, acting as narrator.
Rose Black’s debut novel The Unforgetting starts with Lily Bell waking in an unfamiliar room, hearing the sea outside and smelling burnt toast; her dreams of becoming an actress on the Victorian stage are about to come true – or are they?
Perhaps the most widely beloved Sherlock Holmes novella, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) holds a unique position in literary history. Its marriage of the gothic and detective fiction makes for a superbly enticing and atmospheric tale, despite even Holmes’s substantive absence for a significant portion. The eponymous hound’s glowing eyes and midnight yowling continue to haunt us. It is, in short, a difficult novel to follow up. In James Lovegrove’s latest pastiche Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of the Stapletons, he attempts precisely this.
Witch Bottle is instantly engaging. After a strange, enigmatic prologue in which the narrator encounters a ghastly cruel giant, somewhere outside our reality, we’re plunged into the minutiae of a milkman’s daily round – like an incantation to normality. The narrator is Daniel, who left his wife and infant daughter some time ago to live alone in a spartan rented house in a remote part of England. He says “I’m just trying to give you a sense of the job here…” and it feels intimate, confessional; Witch Bottle is a tale told to the reader.
Christmas Eve is “the perfect time to hunker down and enjoy the special kind of festive cosiness that you could only get from scaring yourself silly with spooky tales,” says editor, Tanya Kirk, in her short introduction to this excellent collection of weird festive short stories.
Secrets are at the haunting heart of this touching page-turner of a debut novel by C.S. O’Cinneide.
Bone Harvest isn’t afraid to start at the beginning. Part one of James Brogden’s latest folk horror novel is entitled “prepare the ground”, and the cultivation metaphor – cycles of growth, reaping, ploughing-in and lying fallow – also dictates the author’s approach to his story.
Dean Koontz is a first-class storyteller. I have fond memories of squirrelling under the covers in my childhood bedroom with his horror novels, worried my mother would deem them too adult, or some other protest prefixed with “too” that would see me denied his riches. Revisiting Koontz now had no less of a thrill.