Haunts of Horror By Hilary Williamson (September 2009)
With Halloween on the horizon, it's time to highlight those tomes that are haunts of horror for our reading pleasure - and there have been some superlatively spooky ones this year, for all ages.
Starting with the scariest, we have Strain, first in a trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro (creator of Pan's Labyrinth) and Chuck Hogan. It's a War of the Worlds struggle between man and vampires who are far from the recent Angel-ic kind we've grown to love. Rather a virus turns people into voracious aliens with no humanity left in them. Mankind's continuing existence soon hangs on a thread, as the epidemiologist hero and his unlikely allies strive to save the day. Definitely one to read October 31st by candle light!
Here's another first, Dark Art: Personal Effects (by J. C. Hutchins & Jordan Weisman), launching an interactive supernatural thriller series. A book pocket provides readers with all kinds of documentation for their own investigation (by phone and Internet). Atmospheric black and white drawings set the tone for a story largely set in a psychiatric hospital, where art therapist Zach Taylor has been asked to assess a suspected serial killer, a subtle and skilled manipulator who insists that he's an 'unwitting psychic sniper' for a terrible Dark Man.
Ready for more murderous mayhem? Try The Shimmer by David Morrell, based on the real-life phenomenon of unexplained lights in the night sky of Marfa, Texas. Santa Fe police officer Dan Page seeks his wife Tori, who has been drawn by childhood memory and a recent crisis into an obsession with mysterious lights that appear nightly in Rostov, Texas. Unfortunately they affect people in different ways, plunging Dan and Tori into a maelstrom of violence.
Lincoln Child is another big name (often partnered with Douglas Preston) in fast-paced thrills and chills. His Terminal Freeze starts with the discovery of what a research team initially believe to be a saber tooth tiger frozen in glacial ice - faster than readers can say global warming, a defrosted monster is up and active, bloodthirsty and seemingly unstoppable.
If you like a red vein of romance running through the horror, then pick up Susan Squires' Time for Eternity, set amidst the political upheaval of the bloody French Revolution when Henri Foucault turned Frankie Suchet vampire and then abandoned her to survive on her own. The new twist on the usual undead relationship is that Frankie returns (by time machine) from the modern day to 1784 Paris, determined to destroy the man who ruined her life.
Running out of good horror reads in adult lit? Then delve into YA novels. The quality is just as high, though the stories tend to be shorter. My favorite this year was Isobelle Carmody's Alyzon Whitestarr (first in a series). After a coma caused by an accident, Alyzon finds she has enhanced perceptions of people, expressed through her sense of smell. And some individuals, who smell particularly foul, are in the service of evil and are working to spread that wrongness to others.
Kelley Armstrong, a big name in adult fantasy/horror, has an excellent YA Darkest Powers series as well. Its star, motherless film student Chloe Saunders, was sent to a group home for troubled teenagers after she reached puberty and started seeing needy ghosts. She and fellow teen inmates (a levitator, a werewolf, and a witch) end up on the run (in The Awakening) from adult supernaturals who want to control or kill them.
For very young readers, horror tends to be leavened with hilarity, as can be seen in David Lubar's My Rotten Life, first in his Accidental Zombie series. It opens, 'It's no fun having your heart ripped from your body, slammed to the floor, and stomped into a puddle of quivering red mush' - and this is even before the horror begins. After a science experiment turns young Nathan into a zombie, he discovers that 'being half dead wasn't all bad'.
Hope that's enough gory and gruesome treats to take you through October. And if you have little ones counting the days to trick-or-treat time, read along with them The 13 Days Of Halloween: A Trick-or-Treat Sing-Along! by Carol Greene & Tim Raglin - its courtship gifts (which I don't recommend your duplicating) range from 'a vulture in a dead tree' to toads and spiders, ghosts and goblins. In the spirit of the season, I wish you an eerie October, a hair-raising Halloween and a frightful Fall, filled with bloodcurdling and rapacious reads.
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