Roundup: 4 horror books to read for Halloween

Fairy tale

By Stephen King

Simon & Schuster, 600 pages, $39.99

During the multiple COVID-related lockdowns, when most of us were ripping every penny out of our Netflix subscriptions, Stephen King asked himself a question, « What could you write that would make you happy? » He immediately saw, in his mind, the image of a « vast desert city, deserted but alive ». King followed this vision into the basements of his fertile imagination and returned with « Fairy Tale ». The hero (and narrator) is Charlie Reade, a teenaged version of King’s American Everyman — self-contained, haunted by private grief, and utterly decent. Charlie is drawn to the « deserted but alive » town after coming to the aid of a grumpy old man who lives with his German Shepherd in a rundown house nearby. The resulting friendship draws Charlie into a mysterious parallel world accessed through a portal in a shed in the backyard of the house. King has clearly fulfilled his COVID mandate: « Fairy Tale » is a dark but happy tale, told in broad but crisp strokes, well-paced and full of suspense.

Almost midnight

By Mark Morris, ed.

Flame Tree Press, 296 pages, $21.95

Horror stories written in recent years, like those collected in « Close to Midnight, » are bound to focus on themes of isolation, detention, loss of personal agency, and paranoia. general social. This catalog of lockdown-era fears and cognitive disruptions finds its purest form in several of the stories, most effectively in Adam Nevill’s ‘Rise Up Together’ and Carole Johnstone’s ‘The Nine of Diamonds’. « Rise Up Together » reimagines the horror of forced confinement by relentless authority figures through a grotesquely comic conceit of the triumphant age of youth. Johnstone’s story is a seemingly more muted tale of economic desperation and corporate misdeeds that only bares its teeth in a well-deserved surprise ending. A sense of loss pervades the entire collection; As writers continue to process the fallout from the pandemic, more such stories are bound to find their way into print.

The Witch of the Well

By Camilla Bruce

Tor, 300 pages $35.95

The Well Witch, by Camilla Bruce, Tor, 300 pages, $35.95

Camilla Bruce’s impressive knowledge of European folklore allows her to carve out, in her fiction, a strange boundary between the realm of ancestral pagan beliefs and our so-called rationalist modern age. In « The Witch in the Well », Bruce updates the epistolary form – through the deployment of emails, blogs, excerpts from books and traditional journals – to explore the legacy of a murder of the 19th century, in which Ilsbeth, a wealthy woman accused of witchcraft in an American farming community, was drowned in a well by her neighbors. Now, Catherine, an aspiring local author, is on a mission to clear Ilsbeth’s name, but her plans are thwarted when a former childhood friend (and bestselling author) decides to write too. a book that will tell the « true story » of the accused witch. “This is a superb folk horror tale that offers an imaginative feminist take on the historical persecution of witches through the conflicting viewpoints of three complex and sometimes incredibly unlikable female protagonists.

dark sighting

By Catherine Cavendish

Flame Tree Press, 230 pages, $21.95

Dark Observation, by Catherine Cavendish, Flame Tree Press, 230 pages, $21.95

Violet, a typist in London during the darkest days of World War II, knows she has it better than most of her fellow Londoners. Her job in a government typing pool keeps her fed, housed, and relatively safe from Luftwaffe raids, but the work is dreary and repetitive. When offered a job as a typist in the top-secret Cabinet War Rooms below Parliament, Violet jumps at the chance. His new job and the arrival of an exotic woman at Violet’s pension soon draw him into a vast occult conspiracy to derail the British war effort. “Dark Observation” layers the tight pacing and plot of the spy thriller with a genuinely spooky atmosphere, and the historical details ring true without feeling intrusive.

James Grainger is the author of « Harmless » and the curator of « The Veil » on Substack.


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