Tuesday, 13 April 2021

At last getting back to some kind of normal


Well, life is finally getting back to something approximating normality. The pub beer gardens reopened yesterday, which was a huge relief for lots of us. More important than that, for me at least, our non-necessary shops were also allowed to reopen, which, on a lovely spring day as we had yesterday seemed to bring town centres to life all across the country.

I know there are lots of hoops to jump through yet, and there’ll be plenty more concerns before we hit full recovery, but if nothing else, it feels as though we’ve come a long way since those dull, dark, deep-frozen nights in December and January when I could walk my dogs through Wigan and Standish and see everything closed and scarcely a living soul.

Anyway, to celebrate this change for the better, I yesterday received a most unexpected treat. Check the pic above and read on for the details.

Alas, it’s not all good news this week. I’ll also be talking a little today about the loss of a friend (albeit one I haven’t seen in the flesh for several years) and a very important figure in genre fiction. More details about that one further down too.

On top of everything else, I’m now in the process of compiling TERROR TALES OF THE SCOTTISH LOWLANDS. It’s far too early to talk about it in detail yet, but I’ve been getting some great fiction in for it, while the non-fiction I’ve collected is, as usual, hair-raisingly chilling. Keep reading and I’ll drop a few mischievous hints.

On the subject of original short-form horror, I’ll also be reviewing the VALANCOURT BOOK OF WORLD HORROR STORIES #1 today, as edited by James D Jenkins and Ryan Cagle.


If you’re only here for the Valancourt review, that’s cool. As ever, you’ll find it in the Thrillers, Chillers section at the lower end of today’s blogpost. Feel free to rattle on down there and get stuck in, though if you’ve got a bit more time, perhaps you’ll be equally interested in …

Celebration Day

Yesterday’s full reopening of walk-in retail came as a big respite to many in England, not least because lots of people I know are book addicts, readers or writers or both, and to be able to go into shops and browse along bookshelves again was a lunchtime or weekend joy which, up until yesterday, they’d been torturously denied for months on end.

Now, there’s no doubt that the book-buying public has been well-served by the online sector (not to mention the nation’s delivery men and women), who’ve done a sterling job during these dark days. But there’s something inherently magical about being able to pop into bookshops as well: the relaxing ambience, the quiet, respectful chatter, the soft rustle of pages as you and others like you search eagerly for the next find. Imagine my delight yesterday, therefore, when Kate, the irrepressible manager at Waterstones Wigan, my local branch (pictured at the top with my good self), contacted me in the morning and asked if I’d be interested in marking their grand reopening by popping in and signing those books of mine that they had in stock.

What an honour. How could I say no?

A friend later commented: ‘It must be wonderful to be a celebrity in your own town.’

Well … I’d completely dispute that. I slipped in and out of the shop, in truth. It was a fairly unobtrusive event even though – and this was great to see – the store was nicely busy on its first day back. But there was a good feeling in the air and a really positive vibe, which I was delighted to contribute to in my own small way.

Support your local bookshop whenever you can, folks. And don’t think purely in terms of those small independents who always needs customers (though you can’t buy their wares enough, in my view). While Waterstones may be a nationwide operation, your local branch will only be there as long as people go into it. Our high streets are in a meagre enough state as it is, especially since Covid started. Let’s not also lose our booksellers too, whoever they might be.

A big loss

On a more sombre note, I was upset yesterday to hear about the death, at only 63, of JOHN PELAN, a US writer, editor and publisher of dark and weird fiction, and a huge and positive influence within the genre, not just in the States, but here in Europe as well.

Basically, John lived and breathed the scary stuff. His suburban Seattle home, which my wife and I were very graciously welcomed into by John and his wife, Cathy, back in 2001, was, in the wise words of horror maestro Brian Keene, ‘like going into the greatest library in the world’. I couldn’t believe it as I was conducted from one room to the next, both upstairs and down, each one of which was lined with shelves groaning beneath the weight of classic horror and mystery novels and anthologies.

But John wasn’t just a collector. As I said, he wrote himself, he edited, he published (he particularly favoured bringing forgotten classics back to public attention), but perhaps most important of all, he was a huge supporter and promoter of new talent. I was fortunate enough to come under his wing when I was starting out, as did many others I know (Brian Keene, Tim Lebbon, Michael Arnzen, Matt Cardin etc, to name a few). John keenly explored rafts of new and prospective writing. He was a towering figure to new authors, and yet unfailingly polite, constructive and encouraging about material he considered to be promising.

A priceless mentor and adviser to so many of us. He’ll be sorely missed.

Rest in peace, big guy.

The Low Road

And now all things Scottish. Or at least Lowlands Scottish.

It’s an oddity, but the popular song Loch Lomond, sung lustily by many a Sassenach and his family as they head north for a holiday in that green and beautiful land beyond Hadrian’s Wall, particularly the catchy chorus line – ‘O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye – originated as a Jacobite ballad featuring a brave rebel who returned to Scotland before those of lesser courage as he’d been despatched there by the English hangman.

Yes. A grimmer ditty than many may realise.

But this nicely sums up the attraction to me that the Scottish Lowlands presented when I was looking to edit my next volume of TERROR TALES.

Often seen as a gentle, benign landscape compared to the bleak fastnesses of the Highlands, the Lowlands boasts scenic ranges of hills, glens and lochs all of its own. There is much wilderness to be found there, though thanks to the Lowlands’ proximity to Scotland’s two largest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, it tends to be more populous and somewhat less geographically dramatic. However, in terms of history and mythology, the Lowlands is considerably more blood-soaked and brutal. 

This was the realm where most of Scotland’s battles with England were fought, but also where civil strife took its bitter course, and where reiver clans raided and feuded. As such, the landscape is studded with castles, towers, gibbets and other relics of war and violence, while the ghosts that haunt it are a veritable who’s who of Scottish notables, everyone from the Black Douglas (beheaded in 1463) to Lord Darnley, husband to Mary, Queen of Scots (strangled in 1567). 

The Lowlands were also immortalised by a plethora of poets and rural balladeers, who painted it as lovely but mysterious, spinning vivid tales of witches, warlocks, brownies and selkies. Even the great cities of this region, now among the greatest in Europe, once harboured evil reputations, Edinburgh (or ‘Auld Reekie’), formerly a filthy slum notorious for plague and atrocity, Glasgow renowned for its bad old days of sectarianism and organised crime.

The book is only due out from Telos in the autumn, so I won’t say much more about it in terms of revealing detail. Though I will mention again that I’ve had some superb submissions already, while the local folklore is living up every inch to the horror I anticipated. And just to whet your appetites even more, here are some pics I’ve purloined from the Net (credits will be given at the bottom of today’s column, if it’s possible to find them), which I hope hint strongly at the chills to come. Feel free to play a guessing about who or what these images refer to.


Gentleman by day, killer by night ...



True life horror embodied in border stronghold granite ...


A host of miniature corpses found buried in miniature coffins ...


A hellishly burning coach, crashing around Edinburgh’s midnight streets ... 


THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

VALANCOURT BOOK OF WORLD HORROR STORIES #1
ed. by James D Jenkins and Ryan Cagle (2020)


Valancourt Books are fast becoming the go-to publishers for quality but out-of-print fiction. An American independent firm, they were started by James Jenkins and Ryan Cagle in 2005, their aim to rediscover and republish masterworks from former eras that are now largely forgotten. Thus far, their focus has been divided about equally between gay fiction and Gothic horror fiction, many of the latter titles dating way back into the 1800s, though quite a few were published as recently as the 1980s.

But Valancourt are also increasingly interested in putting out horror anthologies, particularly – and this appears to be very in keeping with their raison d’être – bunches of tales that, for whatever reason, have slipped under the radar of the modern western reader.

No horror anthology that I’ve seen and read in many a year more appropriately meets this ambition than the Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories. But before we discuss it in detail, I’ll let the publishers themselves explain the purpose behind this book in their own official blurb:

What if there were a whole world of great horror fiction out there you didn't know anything about, written by authors in distant lands and in foreign languages, outstanding horror stories you had no access to, written in languages you couldn't read? For an avid horror fan, what could be more horrifying than that?

For this ground-breaking volume, the first of its kind, the editors of Valancourt Books have scoured the world, reading horror stories from dozens of countries in nearly twenty languages, to find some of the best contemporary international horror stories. The stories in this volume come from 19 countries on 5 continents and were originally written in 13 different languages. All 20 foreign language stories in this volume are appearing in English for the first time ever. The book includes stories by some of the world's preeminent horror authors, many of them not yet known in the English-speaking world …


Two things struck me straight away about the Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories 1.

Firstly, that it’s already being billed as Volume One. Well, if that’s not a good sign, nothing is. Valancourt certainly appear to have strong confidence in their titles. And why not, as they’ve been a success story for quite a few years now. Let’s hope that this clear indication they intend the series to run plays out in full.

Secondly, that the quality of the stories in this collection is extraordinarily high. It’s often the case, I think, that when you pick up any kind of anthology, you probably won’t expect much more than half of its contents to really delight you if for no other reason than tastes differ. There’ll always be a few stories that you’re okay with but won’t really remember, probably one or two more that you’re indifferent to, and maybe a couple that you absolutely hate. Either way, it’s a rarity that anyone closes an anthology satisfied that every contribution thrilled and excited them.

I can’t honestly claim that that’s the entire story here, and I’m sure that editors Jenkins and Cagle would not expect that. But the vast majority of the fiction here is simply superb. And even the tiny handful of stories that didn’t blow me away are all excellently written (and translated – we must never forget the various translators, who have done an excellent and enormous job with this particular volume).

One thing that did surprise me is the lack of obvious folk-horror. It’s a current trend in the genre for authors to go rural, digging up ancient tales and arcane customs, and imposing them on the modern world. I expected the Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories to go exactly that way. Folklore is a rich seam to tap if you’re looking to scare people, and there must be many non English-speaking authors who dip regularly into that vast reservoir of world mythology lying beyond the boundaries of the Anglosphere. But aside from a couple of stories, this doesn’t really happen here.

What we’ve got instead is a very eclectic range of material, brought to us from countries as culturally and geographically diverse as Ivory Coast and Sweden, Mexico and Canada. But the bulk of it falls into one of two categories: either traditional horror stories in that they contain ghosts, devils, monsters etc, or the bizarre, leaning towards slipsteam and surrealism. However, without fail, all are eerie, disturbing and ultra-dark.

If we look at the more traditional stories first, they range over a variety of subject matter, but all are frightening in the best possible way.

Take Twin Shadows, penned by Québécois author Ariane Gélinas. It tells the eerie tale of young Floriane, who grows up in a huge spooky old house, but who has a constant companion in the form of a twin sister that no one else cares about or even, if the truth be told, knows about. This one would sit comfortably in any edition of classic ghost stories. A similarly Gothic tale, albeit perhaps even more frightening, is Backstairs, written by Sweden’s Anders Fager, a period piece that takes us to another dismal mansion with a chilling mystery at the heart of it (this is an astonishingly good piece of work, so more about this one later).

More contemporary in tone but still packed with classic tropes we have Dutch writer Christien Boomsma’s The Bones in Her Eyes, a story of witchcraft and dark magic set in the suburbs (though this is another top quality contribution, so more about this one later as well). Less ghostly, but no less mysterious and disturbing, is Senior Ligotti by Mexico’s Bernard Esquinca. In this one, Estaban, a struggling writer with a pregnant wife falls for the charm of Senior Ligotti, an elderly but wealthy reader, who offers him a cheap apartment and access to a major publishing house in return for friendship. Unfortunately, Ligotti’s idea of friendship is not Estaban’s.

From Finland comes a classic monster story. Pale Toes by Marko Hautala is not to be read by anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. It features a married couple, mismatched in age, their relationship clearly failing, but who take a hiking holiday along the Franco-Spanish border and meet a scruffy Englishman who promises to show them subterranean cave drawings that no one else has ever seen. They are wary of accepting, but in the end, unfortunately, they do.

Perhaps the one clear occasion when Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories does stray into the realms of folk-horror is with The White Cormorant by Norwegian writer, Frithjof Spalder, though it is set in Ireland. It concerns a cocky young fisherman who opts to sale single-handed around a deadly mass of ocean rocks, but who is subsequently wrecked in the foam and then saved by a mysterious being, as a result of which encounter his life will never be the same again.

Leaning a little away from traditional themes towards a more surreal form of horror, we have two other pieces that I’ll be pleased to talk a little bit more about later on. Down, in Their World by Romanian writer, Flavius Ardelean, has the typical air of a dark Slavic fairy tale in that it’s instructive as well as terrifying. Perhaps one of the creepiest stories in the entire book, though, is provided by Hungarian author, Attila Veres, The Time Remaining, an apparently gentle study of a child’s attachment to his favourite childhood toy, which rapidly descends into a nightmare.

More firmly in the world of the weird, Spain’s Jose Maria Latorre provides Snapshots, a short quirky chiller in which a young man heads for a city centre photobooth, only to find that each set of images shows him looking older than the time before. Thinking the machine faulty, he determinedly continues, but the pictures now show him ageing fast …

From Italy, and, if anything, even more disturbing is Luigi Musolini’s deeply psychological Uironda, in which a depressed truck-driver, worn out and at the end of his tether, takes on endless long, hard jobs, but hears increasingly about a mysterious turn-off leading to a mythical city (Uironda), which no sane trucker would ever want to visit … so why does our weary hero feel drawn there?

Also from the world of deranged psychology comes Cristina Fernandez Cubas’ much-reprinted Spanish parable, The Angle of Horror. In this tale, which is already famous in the Spanish-speaking world, young Julia is delighted when her beloved older brother, Carlos, returns from a trip to England, only to find that he is behaving strangely. The rest of the family suspect he is in love, but Carlos confides in Julia that he has discovered the ‘horror of the angle’. This is a subtle one by any standards and probably bears a second reading, though much more on the nose is Peruvian writer Tanya Tynjala’s memorable The Collector, which sees a young man, Julian, so desperate for intimate relations with the beautiful Diana, that eventually, on a promise, he arranges to meet her at the rundown café attached to an isolated gas station. Almost immediately, though, it feels as if something isn’t quite right.

More complex, though no less sinister, we have two genuine slices of dark surrealism. Firstly, in Menopause, courtesy of Ivory Coast author, Flore Hazoume, which takes us into the heart of a small community where, for no obvious reason, all the women are young and fair and all the men wise and mature. Secondly, equally concerned with issues of gender and inequality, from Ecuador, Solange Rodriquez Pappe provides Tiny Women, which commences with a woman attempting to clean out her infirm parents’ dirty, trash-filled house, and discovering a colony of tiny women living like insects in the debris. They aren’t easy to disperse, but then her philandering, sexist brother arrives for the night, and all hell will soon be let loose.

I’m not going to talk about every story in the Valancourt Book of World Horror. There are obviously many others, 21 in overall total, so be under no illusions, this is a big chunky anthology with lots more going for it than I have mentioned here. On top of this, editors Jenkins and Cagle introduce each entry in concise but informative fashion, ensuring that we know all we need to in advance of what in many cases may be our first foray into high-quality ‘foreign language’ horror. For that reason alone – never mind that this book features genuinely scary fiction almost all the way through – I urge you to take a chance on it. And at the same time express my fondest hope that this really is only Volume One of what will shortly become an ongoing series.

And now …

WORLD HORROR STORIES – the movie.

I doubt that any film maker has optioned this book yet (thus far, at least), and who knows how likely it is ever to happen, but as this part of the review is always a bit of a laugh, here are my views just in case some major player decides to transfer it to the big screen.

Note: these four stories are NOT the ones I necessarily consider to be the best in the book, but these are the four I perceive as most filmic and most right for adaptation in a compendium horror. Of course, no such horror film can happen without a central thread, and this is where you guys, the audience, come in. 

Just accept that four strangers have been thrown together in unusual circumstances which require them to either relate spooky stories or listen to them. It could be that some doctor must judge the sanity of his patents from them, a la Asylum (pictured), or maybe the tales are spun to bored travellers by a mysterious tarot card-reader on a trans-continental train in an international version of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors.

Without further messing about, here are the stories and the casts I would choose:

The Bones in Her Eyes (by Christien Boomsma): Caring Tara runs over a pet cat while driving through the suburbs, and regretfully takes the dying animal to its aged owner, Mrs Gottlieb. But the nice old lady seems strangely unconcerned, while Tara then goes on to suffer a succession of eerie dreams, about a cat that cannot die and a small, neat house filled with necromantic magic ...
Tara – Sylvia Hoeks
Mrs Gottlieb – Willeke van Ammelrooy

Down, in Their World (by Flavius Ardelean): Four poverty-stricken men attempt to steal iron from an abandoned mine in which a paedophile killer once dumped his victims. Increasingly they feel they are not alone down there, and when one of them is critically injured, two go for help, leaving only the casualty and his brother behind …
Stere – Vlad Ivanov
Nicu – Alec Secăreanu

The Time Remaining (by Attila Veres): A distressed child is persuaded by his mother that Villi, his favourite cuddly toy, is sick and dying. The child can’t have this and decides to do everything in his power to keep the ailing Villi alive…
The Child – You’ll have to fill this blank in yourselves, as I know no Hungarian child actors.

Backstairs (by Anders Fager) A psychotherapist investigates the case of a wealthy widow’s daughter, a pretty girl who is constantly beset by the most horrific nightmares and who even manifests cuts and bruises as if these terrifying fantasies are actually real …
Elvira – Alicia Vikander
Dr Lohrman – Stellan Skarsgård
Mrs Wallin – Lena Endre

(Ownership of the pix used in today’s blogpost are as follows: Kate took the shots at Waterstones, while the movie stills come from Outlaw King (2018) and Asylum (1972). The image of Jekyll and Hyde comes from the advertising accompanying a British Library event concerning The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; I’m not sure who the actual illustrator was, but if he or she would like to make themselves known, I will happily post a credit. The picture of the murder dolls comes to us from the National Museum of Scotland, while the burning coach is West Bow, Midnight by AA Ritchie. Im unaware who took the photo of the late, great John Pelan, but again, if the photographer would like to make him or herself known to me, I will happily post a credit. 

Friday, 5 March 2021

Lots of good, dark reads coming your way


Well, who would have believed that one year on, we’d still be in the grip of lockdown, or that so many would have died, so many jobs would have been lost and businesses collapsed, and so many marooned and isolated individuals left suffering prolonged mental torture. Covid has certainly been a disaster that none of us saw coming. 

Even for those of us who’ve managed to ride it out relatively unscathed it’s seemed as if almost everything we enjoy doing has been closed to us. One thing that does not apply to, however, is reading, a national habit which, even with most shops closed, has not been hampered thanks to our fearless armies of delivery drivers. According to the Bookseller, publishers have been reporting record sales over the last few months, with lots of folk picking up books and reading again for the first time in ages. Its been a sanctuary into which a great many of us have thankfully scuttled.

In honour of that, and in reflection of yesterday (when I first started writing this post) being World Book Day, I thought it was high time I did another of my ‘look at what book treats lie ahead of us’ posts, focussing today on 40 works of dark fiction due out before the end of this year that I am paricularly looking forward to.

On the subject of novels that straddle subgenres within the darker realm, I’ll also be offering a detailed review and discussion of Craig Russell’s bone-chilling THE DEVIL ASPECT. You’ll find that, as always, in the Thrillers, Chillers section at the bottom of today’s column.

Before that though, let’s get straight into some …

Future fears

I guess it won’t surprise anyone if I admit that I love reading, or that when it comes to books I cast my net widely, taking in a range of genres. However, in regard to this blog, I focus on four in particular. These are: Crime, Horror, Thriller and Just Plain Dark

I won’t pretend that I’m not addicted to this kind of literature, regularly scanning the publishers’ ‘coming soon’ articles and making lists of those forthcoming titles that look as if they’ll be of most interest to me. And these last few months, with escapes into the worlds of fiction more necessary than ever, it’s been something I’ve done almost every evening.

Therefore, the next part of this blog will feature ten books from each of those categories I mentioned, which are due to be published between now and December this year, and which I can’t wait to get stuck into. In each case, I’ve posted the cover and the publisher’s official blurb.

Please note that the dates of publication I give mainly refer to paperback releases, which is the way I most like to receive a book. Some of these may already have appeared as ebooks or hardbacks, though there are also a couple here that are only due out before the end of this year as hardbacks. I’m still including these if I like the look of them. Hope that makes at least a bit of sense (whatever, they’re all either coming out very soon, or have come out recently in one form or another, so just follow the links for the full lowdown).

One last thing: humble apologies to anyone who feels their book should be in here but isn’t. There were several I had to leave out because their covers are not available yet, and also because, as always, there just wasn’t room for everything. This is not by any means the complete list of books still due this year that I am excited about.

 Anyway, that’s the blather done with. So, let’s go. In no particular order:

CRIME

1. DEAD GROUND by MW Craven
(due for pub on June 3)

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is in court, fighting eviction from his beloved and isolated croft, when he is summoned to a backstreet brothel in Carlisle where a man has been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Poe is confused - he hunts serial killers and this appears to be a straightforward murder-by-pimp - but his attendance was requested personally, by the kind of people who prefer to remain in the shadows.

As Poe and the socially awkward programmer Tilly Bradshaw delve deeper into the case, they are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions. 

Despite being heavily vetted for a high-profile job, why does nothing in the victim's background check out? 

Why was a small ornament left at the murder scene - and why did someone on the investigation team steal it? 

And what is the connection to a flawlessly executed bank heist three years earlier, a heist where nothing was taken . . .

 

2. THE FAMILIAR DARK by Amy Engel
(due for pub on Oct 28)

In other places, the murder of two little girls would have blanketed the entire town in horror. Here, it was just another bad day.

Eve Taggert’s life has been spent steadily climbing away from her roots. Her mother, a hard and cruel woman who dragged her up in a rundown trailer park, was not who she wanted to be to her own daughter, Junie.

But 12-year old Junie is now dead. Found next to the body of her best friend in the park near their small, broken town. Eve has nothing left but who she used to be.

Despite the corrupt police force that patrol her dirt-poor town deep in the Missouri Ozarks, Eve is going to find what happened to her daughter. Even if it means using her own mother’s cruel brand of strength to unearth secrets that don’t want to be discovered and face truths it might be better not to know.

Everyone is a suspect.

Everyone has something to hide.

And someone will answer for her daughter’s murder.

 

3. WHEN SHE WAS GOOD by Michael Robotham
(due for pub on July 8)

She has secrets.

Six years ago, Evie Cormac was found hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a brutal murder. But nobody has ever discovered her real name or where she came from, because everybody who tries ends up dead.

He needs answers.

Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven believes the truth will set Evie free. Ignoring her warnings, he begins to dig into her past, only to disturb a hornet’s nest of corrupt and powerful people who have been waiting to find Evie - the final witness to their crimes. Unbeknownst to him, Cyrus is leading them straight to Evie. The truth will not set her free. It will get them killed.

 

4. SLEEP TIGHT by CS Green
(due for pub on Mar 4)

Even in your dreams you’re not safe…

The nightmare is only just beginning…

When DC Rose Gifford is called to investigate the death of a young woman suffocated in her bed, she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to the crime than meets the eye.

It looks like a straightforward crime scene – but the police can’t find the killer. 

Enter DS Moony – an eccentric older detective who runs UCIT, a secret department of the Met set up to solve supernatural crimes. Moony wants Rose to help her out – but Rose doesn’t believe in any of that.

Does she?

As the killer prepares to strike again, Rose must pick a side – before a second woman dies. 


5. WHEN THE STARS GO DARK by Paula McLain
(due for pub on Apr 13)

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the
darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing.

The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives - and our faith in one another. 


6. LEFT YOU DEAD by Peter James
(due for pub on May 13)

No body. No trace.

No crime?

Niall and Eden Paternoster start their Sunday the same way they always do – with a long drive, a visit to a country house and a quick stop at the local supermarket on the way home.

But this Sunday ends differently – because while Niall waits and waits in the car park for Eden to pick up supplies, Eden never returns. 

She’s not waiting for him at home, and none of their family or friends have heard from her.

Gone without a trace, Niall is arrested on suspicion of her murder. 

When DS Roy Grace is called in to investigate, it doesn’t take long to realize that nothing is quite as it seems – and this might be his most mysterious case yet . . .

 

7. THE WAITER by Ajay Chowdhury
(due for pub on May 27)

Kamil Rahman, disgraced detective turned waiter, is about to find himself embroiled in a case that might just change his life ... for better or for worse.

Ex-detective Kamil Rahman moves from Kolkata to London to start afresh as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. But the day he caters an extravagant party for his boss’s rich and powerful friend, the peace of his simple new life is shattered. The event is a success, the food is delicious, but later that evening the host, Rakesh, is found dead in his swimming pool.

Suspicion falls on Rakesh’s young and glamorous new wife, Neha, and Kamil is called to investigate for the family, with the help of his boss’s daughter Anjoli. 

Kamil and Anjoli prove a winning team - but as the investigation progresses, and their relationship grows, Kamil struggles to keep memories of the case that destroyed his career in Kolkata at bay. 

Little does he know that his past will soon catch up with him in some very unexpected ways.

 

8. THE COFFIN MAKER’S GARDEN by Stuart MacBride
(due for pub on Sept 16)

A village on the edge…

As a massive storm batters the Scottish coast, Gordon Smith’s home is falling into the North Sea. But the crumbling headland has revealed what he’s got buried in his garden: human remains.

A house full of secrets…

With the storm still raging, it’s too dangerous to retrieve the bodies and waves are devouring the evidence. Which means no one knows how many people Smith’s already killed and how many more he’ll kill if he can’t be found and stopped.

An investigator with nothing to lose…

The media are baying for blood, the top brass are after a scapegoat, and ex-Detective Inspector Ash Henderson is done playing nice. He’s got a killer to catch, and God help anyone who gets in his way.

 

9. RABBIT HOLE by Mark Billingham
(due for pub on July 22)

My name is Alice. I’m a police officer.

I’m trying to solve a murder on a psychiatric ward.

But I’m also a patient...

They were meant to be safe on Fleet Ward: psychiatric patients monitored, treated, cared for. 

But now one of their number is found murdered, and the accusations begin to fly.

Was it one of his fellow patients? A member of staff? Or did someone come in from the outside?

DC Alice Armitage is methodical, tireless, and she’s quickly on the trail of the killer.

The only problem is, Alice is a patient too.

 

10. THE NIGHT GATE by Peter May
(due for pub on Aug 5)

In a sleepy French village, the body of a man shot through the head is disinterred by the roots of a fallen tree. A week later a famous art critic is viciously murdered in a nearby house. The deaths occurred more than seventy years apart.

Asked by a colleague to inspect the site of the former, forensics expert Enzo Macleod quickly finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the latter. Two extraordinary narratives are set in train - one historical, unfolding in the treacherous wartime years of Occupied France; the other contemporary, set in the autumn of 2020 as France re-enters Covid lockdown.

And Enzo’s investigations reveal an unexpected link between the murders - the Mona Lisa.

Tasked by the exiled General Charles de Gaulle to keep the world’s most famous painting out of Nazi hands after the fall of France in 1940, 28-year-old Georgette Pignal finds herself swept along by the tide of history. Following in the wake of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as it is moved from château to château by the Louvre, she finds herself just one step ahead of two German art experts sent to steal it for rival patrons - Hitler and Göring.

 What none of them know is that the Louvre itself has taken exceptional measures to keep the painting safe, unwittingly setting in train a fatal sequence of events extending over seven decades.

 Events that have led to both killings.

The Night Gate spans three generations, taking us from war-torn London, the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Berlin and Vichy France, to the deadly enemy facing the world in 2020.

  

HORROR 

1. HYDE by Craig Russell
(due for pub on Apr 29)

Edward Hyde has a strange gift - or a curse - he keeps secret from all but his physician. 

He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. 

The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde’s otherworld.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind.

A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde’s friend . . . Robert Louis Stevenson.


2. NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH by Cassandra Khaw
(due for pub on Oct 19)

Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists.

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

 

3. SOMEBODY’S VOICE by Ramsey Campbell
(due for pub on June 22)

Alex Grand is a successful crime novelist until his latest book is condemned for appropriating the experience of victims of abuse. 

In a bid to rescue his reputation he ghostwrites a memoir of abuse on behalf of a survivor, Carl Batchelor. Carl’s account proves to be less than entirely reliable; someone is alive who shouldn’t be. 

As Alex investigates the background of Carl’s accusations his grasp of the truth of the book and of his own involvement begins to crumble. 

When he has to testify in a court case brought about by Carl’s memoir, this may be one step too far for his insecure mind…


4. ARTERIAL BLOOM by Mercedes M Yardley
(due for pub on Mar 22)

Lush. Brutal.

Beautiful. Visceral.

Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.

 Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring 16 stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.

You are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.

 The line-up includes:

The Stone Door by Jimmy Bernard
Dog (Does Not) Eat Dog by Grant Longstaff
Kudzu Stories by Linda J. Marshall
Dead Letters by Christopher Barzak
The Darker Side of Grief by Naching T. Kassa
Welcome to My Autumn by Daniel Crow
Still Life by Kelli Owen
Three Masks by Armand Rosamilia
Doodlebug by John Boden
Happy Pills by Todd Keisling
What Remained of Her by Jennifer Loring
Blue Was Her Favorite Color by Dino Parenti
In the Loop by Ken Liu
The Making of Mary by Steven Pirie
Mouths Filled with Sea Water by Jonathan Cosgrove
Rotten by Carina Bissett

 

5. THE OTHER EMILY by Dean R Koontz
(due for pub on Mar 23)

A decade ago, Emily Carlino vanished after her car broke down on a California highway. She was presumed to be one of serial killer Ronny Lee Jessup’s victims whose remains were never found.

Writer David Thorne still hasn’t recovered from losing the love of his life, or from the guilt of not being there to save her. Since then, he’s sought closure any way he can. He even visits regularly with Jessup in prison, desperate for answers about Emily’s final hours so he may finally lay her body to rest. Then David meets Maddison Sutton, beguiling, playful, and keenly aware of all David has lost. But what really takes his breath away is that everything about Maddison, down to her kisses, is just like Emily. As the fantastic becomes credible, David’s obsession grows, Maddison’s mysterious past deepens - and terror escalates.

Is she Emily? Or an irresistible dead ringer? Either way, the ultimate question is the same: What game is she playing? Whatever the risk in finding out, David’s willing to take it for this precious second chance. It’s been ten years since he’s felt this inspired, this hopeful, this much in love … and he’s afraid. 


by Stephen Jones
(due for pub on Oct 14)

The darkness that endures beneath the earth ... the disquiet that lingers in the woodland surrounding a forgotten path ... those ancient traditions and practices that still cling to standing stone circles, earthworks, and abandoned buildings; elaborate rituals that invoke elder gods or nature deities; the restless spirits and legendary creatures that remain connected to a place or object, or exist in deep wells and lonely pools of water, waiting to ensnare the unwary traveller ...

These concepts have been the archetypes of horror fiction for decades, but in recent years they have been given a name: Folk Horror.

This type of storytelling has existed for more than a century. Authors Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, H. P. Lovecraft, and M. R. James all published fiction that had it roots in the notion of the supernatural being linked to objects or places “left behind.” All four writers are represented in this volume with powerful, and hopefully unfamiliar, examples of their work, along with newer exponents of the craft such as Ramsey Campbell, Storm Constantine, Christopher Fowler, Alison Littlewood, Kim Newman, Reggie Oliver, and many others.

Illustrated with the atmospheric photography of Michael Marshall Smith, the stories in The Mammoth Book of Folk Horror tap into an aspect of folkloric tradition that has long been dormant, but never quite forgotten, while the depiction of these forces as being in some way “natural” in no way detracts from the sense of nameless dread and escalating horror that they inspire ...

 

7. CHASING THE BOOGEYMAN by Richard Chizmar
(due for pub on Aug 17)

In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small nMaryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumour begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman - and he’s playing games with them. 

For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighbourhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. 

Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come. 


8. THE COTTINGLEY CUCKOO by AJ Elwood
(due for pub on Apr 14)

Captivated by books and stories, Rose dreams of a more fulfilled life, away from the confines of the Sunnyside Care Home where she works to support herself and her boyfriend. She hopes the situation will be short term.

Charlotte Favell, an elderly resident, takes a strange, sinister interest in Rose, but offers an unexpected glimpse of enchantment. She has a mysterious and aged stack of letters about the Cottingley Fairies, the photographs made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle, but later dismissed as a hoax. The author of the letters insists he has proof that the fairies exist; Rose is eager to learn more, but Charlotte only allows her to read on when she sees fit.

Discovering she is unexpectedly pregnant, Rose feels another door to the future has slammed. The letters’ content grows more menacing, inexplicable events begin to occur inside her home, and Rose starts to entertain dark thoughts about her baby and its origins. Can this simply be depression? Or is something darker taking root?



9. THE CHILDREN GOD FORGOT by Graham Masterton
(due for pub on Oct 7)

Forsake the living. Forget the dead. Fear the children...

A terrifying birth

A young woman is rushed to the hospital with stabbing pains in her stomach. The chief surgeon delivers a living child with the face of an angel and the body of a tentacled monster. The doctors are unanimous that the baby must die.

An escape from the dark

Engineer Gemma is plunged into darkness in a tunnel beneath London. Before she escapes, a strange green light illuminates a cluster of ghostly figures. Gemma is certain they were children.

A supernatural threat

DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel, of Tooting Police, have investigated the occult before – but nothing as strange and horrible as what they must confront in the city sewers. Down here in the dark, where the dead come back to life, witchcraft is the only force strong enough to save you...


10. GOBLIN by Josh Malerman
(due for pub on May 18)

Goblin seems like any other ordinary small town. But with the master storyteller Josh Malerman as your tour guide, you’ll discover the secrets that hide behind its closed doors. These six novellas tell the story of a place where the rain is always falling, night-time is always near, and your darkest fears and desires await. Welcome to Goblin ...

A Man in Slices: A man proves his "legendary love" to his girlfriend with a sacrifice even more daring than Vincent van Gogh’s - and sends her more than his heart.

Kamp: Walter Kamp is afraid of everything, but most afraid of being scared to death. As he sets traps around his home to catch the ghosts that haunt him, he learns that nothing is more terrifying than fear itself.

Happy Birthday, Hunter!: A famed big-game hunter is determined to capture - and kill - the ultimate prey: the mythic Great Owl who lives in Goblin’s dark forests. But this mysterious creature is not the only secret the woods are keeping.

Presto: All Peter wants is to be like his hero, Roman Emperor, the greatest magician in the world. When the famous magician comes to Goblin, Peter discovers that not all magic is just an illusion.

A Mix-Up at the Zoo: The new zookeeper feels a mysterious kinship with the animals in his care ... and finds that his work is freeing dark forces inside him.

The Hedges: When his wife dies, a man builds a hedge maze so elaborate no one ever solves it - until a little girl resolves to be the first to find the mysteries that wait at its heart.

 

THRILLER

1. BULLET TRAIN by Kotaro Isaka
(due for pub on Apr 1)

Five killers find themselves on a bullet train from Tokyo competing for a suitcase full of money. Who
will make it to the last station? An original and propulsive thriller from a Japanese bestseller.

Satoshi looks like an innocent schoolboy but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura’s young son is in a coma thanks to him, and Kimura has tracked him onto the bullet train heading from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. But Kimura soon discovers that they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard.

Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world’, and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?

A bestseller in Japan, Bullet Train is an original and propulsive thriller which fizzes with an incredible energy as its complex net of double-crosses and twists unwinds to the last station. 


2. MOON LAKE by Joe R Lansdale
(due for pub on June 22)

From an Edgar award-winning author comes the gripping and unexpected tale of a lost town and the dark secrets that lie beneath the glittering waters of an East Texas lake.

Daniel Russell was only thirteen years old when his father tried to kill them both by driving their car into Moon Lake. Miraculously surviving the crash - and growing into adulthood - Daniel returns to the site of this traumatic incident in the hopes of recovering his father’s car and bones. As he attempts to finally put to rest the memories that have plagued him for years, he discovers something even more shocking among the wreckage that has ties to a twisted web of dark deeds, old grudges, and strange murders. 

As Daniel diligently follows where the mysterious trail of vengeance leads, he unveils the heroic revelation at its core.


3. BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King
(due for pub on Aug 3)

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer
for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. 

But first there is one last hit. 

Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. 

It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption. 


4. THE RULE by David Jackson
(due for pub on July 1)

My dad says bad things happen when it break it...

Daniel is looking forward to his birthday. He wants fish and chips, a big chocolate cake, and a comic book starring his favourite superhero. And as long as he follows The Rule, nothing bad will happen.

Daniel will be twenty-three next week. And he has no idea that he’s about to kill a stranger.

Daniel’s parents know that their beloved and vulnerable son will be taken away. They know that Daniel didn’t mean to hurt anyone, he just doesn’t know his own strength. They dispose of the body. Isn’t that what any loving parent would do? 

But as forces on both sides of the law begin to close in on them, they realise they have no option but to finish what they started. Even if it means that others will have to die...

Because they’ll do anything to protect him. 

Even murder.

 

by Catriona Ward
(due for pub on Mar 18)

This is the story of a murderer. 

A stolen child. 

Revenge. 

This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street? 

You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. 

But it’s not what you think... 



6. ANOTHER KIND OF EDEN by James Lee Burke
(due for pub on Aug 17)

The American West in the early 1960s appears to be a pastoral paradise: golden wheat fields, mist-filled canyons, frolicking animals. Aspiring novelist Aaron Holland Broussard has observed it from the open door of a boxcar, riding the rails for both inspiration and odd jobs.

Jumping off in Denver, he finds work on a farm and meets Joanne McDuffy, an articulate and fierce college student and gifted painter. Their soul connection is immediate, but their romance is complicated by Joanne’s involvement with a shady professor who is mixed up with a drug-addled cult. When a sinister businessman and his son who wield their influence through vicious cruelty set their sights on Aaron, drawing him into an investigation of grotesque murders, it is clear that this idyllic landscape harbours tremendous power - and evil. Followed by a mysterious shrouded figure who might not be human, Aaron will have to face down all these foes to save the life of the woman he loves and his own.

The latest installment in James Lee Burke’s masterful Holland family saga, Another Kind of Eden is both riveting and one of Burke’s most ambitious works to date. It dismantles the myths of both the twentieth-century American West and the peace-and-love decade, excavating the beauty and idealism of the era to show the menace and chaos that lay simmering just beneath the surface.

 

7. BREAKOUT by Paul Herron
(due for pub on Aug 5)

Jack Constantine - a former cop who killed one of his wife’s murderers in an act of vengeance - is serving his time in Ravenhill penitentiary, a notorious supermax home to the most dangerous convicts in the country.

When an apocalyptic superstorm wreaks havoc across the USA, the correctional officers flee the prison ... but not before opening every cell door. 

The inmates must fend for themselves as lethal floodwaters rise and violent anarchy is unleashed.

Teaming up with Kiera Sawyer, a Correctional Officer left behind on her first day of work, Constantine has one chance of survival - he must break out of a maximum security prison. 

But with the building on the verge of collapse, and deadly chaos around him, time is running out...


8. THE PLAYERS by Darren O’Sullivan
(due for pub on May 13)

In this game it’s kill or be killed

A stranger has you cornered.

They call themselves The Host.

You are forced to play their game.

In it one person can live and the other must die.

You are the next player.

You have a choice to make.

This is a game where nobody wins… 



9. THE GOODBYE MAN by Jeffery Deaver
(due for pub on Mar 18)

Say goodbye to your problems

In pursuit of two armed fugitives in the wilderness of Washington State, unique investigator Colter Shaw witnesses a shocking suicide. This leads him to the Foundation – a cult that promises to transform people’s lives. But is there more to it than meets the eye?

Say goodbye to your freedom

Shaw goes undercover to expose the Foundation’s real purpose. Before long he meets the charismatic leader Master Eli, a man who commands terrifying loyalty from his followers.

Say goodbye to your life

Something truly dark is going on beneath the surface of the idyllic community. And as Shaw peels back the layers of truth, he begins to see there is only one way to escape the Foundation … and the price for that freedom might well be your very life.

 

10. WIN by Harlan Coben
(due for pub on Mar 18)

Over twenty years ago, heiress Patricia Lockwood was abducted during a robbery on her family’s estate, then locked inside an isolated cabin for months. Patricia escaped, but so did her captors, and the items stolen from her family were never recovered.

 Until now.

On New York’s Upper West Side, a recluse is found murdered in his penthouse apartment, alongside two objects of note: a stolen Vermeer painting and a leather suitcase bearing the initials WHL3. For the first time in years, the authorities have a lead not only on Patricia’s kidnapping but also on another FBI cold case - with the suitcase and painting both pointing them towards one man.

Windsor Horne Lockwood III - or Win as his few friends call him - doesn’t know how his suitcase and his family’s stolen painting ended up in this dead man’s apartment. But he’s interested - especially when the FBI tell him that the man who kidnapped his cousin was also behind an act of domestic terrorism, and that he may still be at large.

 The two cases have baffled the FBI for decades. But Win has three things the FBI does not: a personal connection to the case, a large fortune, and his own unique brand of justice ...

 

 JUST PLAIN DARK

1. MIRROR LAND by Carole Johnstone
(due for pub on Apr 15)

The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…

No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. 

But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left the harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.

 Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. 

And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…


2. TRIFLERS NEED NOT APPLY by Camilla Bruce
(due for pub on Aug 5)

Bella Sorensen loves men.

She loves them to death ...

Early in life Bella Sorensen discovers the world is made only for men. They own everything: jobs, property, wives. But Bella understands what few others do: where women are concerned, men are weak.

A woman unhampered by scruples can take from them what she wants. And so Bella sets out to prove to the world that a woman can be just as ruthless, black-hearted and single-minded as any man.

Starting with her long suffering husband, Mads, Bella embarks on a killing spree the like of which has never been seen before nor since.

And through it all her kind, older sister Nellie can only watch in horror as Bella’s schemes to enrich herself and cut down the male population come to a glorious, dreadful fruition ...

 

3. MR CADMUS by Peter Ackroyd
(due for pub on July 1)

Two apparently harmless women reside in cottages one building apart in the idyllic English village of Little Camborne. 

Miss Finch and Miss Swallow, cousins, have put their pasts behind them and settled into conventional country life. 

But when a mysterious foreigner, Theodore Cadmus – from Caldera, a Mediterranean island nobody has heard of – moves into the middle cottage, the safe monotony of their lives is shattered.

The fates of the two cousins and Mr Cadmus, and those of Little Camborne and Caldera, become inextricably enmeshed. Long-hidden secrets and long-held grudges threaten to surface, drawing all into a vortex of subterfuge, theft, violence, mayhem . . . and murder.


4. THE SHAPE OF DARKNESS by Laura Purcell
(due for pub on Oct 14)

Wicked deeds require the cover of darkness...

A struggling silhouette artist in Victorian Bath seeks out a renowned child spirit medium in order to speak to the dead – and to try and identify their killers – in this beguiling new tale from Laura Purcell.

Silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another...

 Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back...

What secrets lie hidden in the darkness?

 

5. MY MOTHER’S HOUSE by Francesca Momplaisir
(due for pub on Apr 13)

For fans of Edwidge Danticat, Mehsin Hamid, Kate Atkinson, and Jesmyn Ward: a literary thriller about the complex underbelly of the immigrant American dream and the dangerous ripple effect one person’s damages can have on the lives of others - told unexpectedly by a house that has held unspeakable horrors

When Lucien flees Haiti with his wife, Marie-Ange, and their three children to New York City’s South Ozone Park, he does so hoping for reinvention, wealth, and comfort. He buys a rundown house in a community that is quickly changing from an Italian enclave of mobsters to a haven for Haitian immigrants, and begins life anew. Lucien and Marie-Ange call their home La Kay - ‘my mother's house’ - and it becomes a place where their fellow immigrants can find peace, a good meal, and legal help. But as a severely emotionally damaged man emigrating from a country whose evils he knows to one whose evils he doesn’t, Lucien soon falls into his worst habits and impulses, with La Kay as the backdrop for his lasciviousness. What he can’t even begin to fathom is that the house is watching, passing judgment, and deciding to put an end to all the sins it has been made to hold. But only after it has set itself aflame will frightened whispers reveal Lucien’s ultimate evil.

At once an uncompromising look at the immigrant experience and an electrifying page-turner, My Mother’s House is a singular, unforgettable achievement. 


6. BROKEN by Don Winslow
(due for pub on Mar 4)

No matter how you come into this world, you come out broken…

In six intense, haunting short novels, Don Winslow returns to the themes that are the hallmarks of his acclaimed body of work – crime, corruption, vengeance, justice, loss, betrayal, guilt, and redemption – to explore the savagery and nobility that drive and define the human condition.

In Broken, Winslow creates a world of high-level thieves and low-life crooks, obsessed cops and jaded private detectives, dope dealers and government agents, bounty hunters and fugitives. Diverse and richly drawn, these characters – some familiar, others new – are lost souls driving without headlights on the dark highway of modern America. Set in New Orleans and Hawaii, Southern California and south Texas, each story in this collection is distinctively Winslow, shaped by his trademark blend of insight, humanity, humour, drama, and consummate literary craftsmanship.


7. THE LAMPLIGHTERS by Emma Stonex
(due for pub on Mar 4)

They say we'll never know what happened to those men.

They say the sea keeps its secrets . . .

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.

 

by Mariana Enriquez
(due for pub on Apr 1)

Mariana Enriquez has been critically lauded for her unconventional and sociopolitical stories of the macabre. Populated by unruly teenagers, crooked witches, homeless ghosts, and hungry women, they walk the uneasy line between urban realism and horror. 

The stories in her new collection are as terrifying as they are socially conscious, and press into being the unspoken- fetish, illness, the female body, the darkness of human history - with bracing urgency. A woman is sexually obsessed with the human heart; a lost, rotting baby crawls out of a backyard and into a bedroom; a pair of teenage girls can’t let go of their idol; an entire neighborhood is cursed to death when it fails to respond correctly to a moral dilemma.

Written against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, and with a resounding tenderness toward those in pain, in fear, and in limbo, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is Mariana Enriquez at her most sophisticated, and most chilling.


9. WHISPER DOWN THE LANE by Clay Chapman
(due for pub on Apr 6)

Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

 Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday - but Sean does . . .

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table ... and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbour, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favourite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation - and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies. 


10. SORROWLAND by River Solomon
(due for pub on May 6)
 
Vern, a Black woman with albinism, is hunted after escaping a religious compound, then she discovers that her body is changing and that she is developing extra-sensory powers.

Alone in the woods, she gives birth to twins and raises them away from the influence of the outside world. But something is wrong - not with them, but with her own body. It’s itching, it’s stronger, it’s ... not normal.

To understand her body's metamorphosis, Vern must investigate not just the secluded religious compound she fled but the violent history of dehumanisation, medical experimentation, and genocide that produced it. In the course of reclaiming her own darkness, Vern learns that monsters aren’t just individuals, but entire histories, systems, and nations.

 

THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed (I’ll outline the plot first, and follow it with my opinions) … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

THE DEVIL ASPECT 
by Craig Russell (2019)

Outline
Hrad Orlů is a medieval castle built on a towering crag in the mountains of the Czechoslovak Republic. For long centuries, in that archetypical style of indomitable Eastern European bastions, it has lowered over the surrounding villages, casting a dark and ominous shadow, especially as it was once the home of law-unto-himself despot, Jan of the Black Heart, whose cruelty bordered on total madness. Now, in 1935, it remains fully intact and still strikes a note of fear in those who see it, because these days it is used as an asylum for the criminally insane. Local gossip has always held that Hrad Orlů is a bad place, haunted not just by evil memories but by the souls of the dead and even infernal spirits as, supposedly, the castle was built over a system of deep caves that formed one of the entrances to Hell. 

So, it’s a surprise to no one among the local peasantry that only their country’s worst murderers are incarcerated there, including the so-called Devil’s Six, a bunch of killers so violent and degenerate that they are considered unfitted for imprisonment anywhere else.

However, things are not quite so bad on the inside. Under the leadership of progressive chief psychiatrist, Professor Ondrej Romarek, the staff are dedicated to treating their inmates rather than punishing them, and all the most modern methods and equipment are in use. It is the ideal environment for young up-and-coming psychiatrist, Viktor Kosárek, who as a student of Jung, is determined to get to the very roots of the mental disturbances that have led his new patients to kill.

He arrives at the asylum at a timely moment, as a new serial predator nicknamed Leather Apron is wreaking havoc in Prague’s poorer districts, where he butchers prostitutes in the manner of Jack the Ripper. Local police chief, Captain Lukáš Smolák, an intelligent, even-handed officer, is leading the hunt but getting nowhere, and increasingly having to balance this duty with controlling disorder on the streets, as, due to the rise of Hitler, stresses are growing between the country’s native Czech and Sudeten German populations. Similar differences are emerging inside Hrad Orlů, where the asylum physician, Doctor Hans Platner and one or two others, approve of Hitler’s philosophies, though for the time being, young idealist, Viktor, is too busy on other fronts to pay much heed to this: firstly, he is slowly falling in love with hospital administrator, Judita Blochova, who, as a Jew, suffers awful nightmares about a dark age looming for her people, and secondly is keen to bring pioneering treatment, a combination of drug therapy and deep hypnosis, to the Devil’s Six. 

Viktor believes in the existence of the ‘id’, a deep place inside all of us where our most violent and destructive impulses are stored, our ‘potential for evil’ for want of a more scientific phrase. He argues that when this is triggered, all manner of horrors can be enacted by even the most mild-mannered people. Viktor calls this the ‘Devil Aspect,’ and asserts that everyone possesses one, though he admits that in the case of the Devil’s Six, it has already been given full rein.

These are a dangerous group of individuals by almost any standards.

They comprise: Hedrika ‘the Vegetarian’ Valentova, who killed her husband and fed him to his own sister; Leos ‘the Clown’ Mladek, a roving child-killer who lured his victims by wearing circus makeup; Dominik ‘the Sciomancer’ Bartos, a deranged scientist who murdered people in the midst of fiendish experiments; Pavel ‘the Woodcutter’ Zeleny, who chopped his wife and children to pieces with an axe; Michal ‘the Glass Collector’ Machacek, a sex murderer who kept his female victims’ heads encased in glass; and worst of all, Vojtech ‘the Demon’ Skála, a raging madman who has committed every kind of homicide, and revels in the pain these deeds have caused.

It’s perhaps understandable that Viktor feels he has his hands full inside the asylum. But it’s increasingly looking as if his expertise will be called for on the outside as well, and maybe some proof will be required that his patients are securely locked up. Because Leather Apron continues to hit new levels of depravity as he slaughters, with Captain Smolák increasingly helpless in the face of the violence unleashed and not a little bit bewildered when one of his suspects admits to peripheral involvement but insists that the real culprit was quite literally the Devil himself …

Review
Just from looking at it, you could be forgiven for thinking The Devil Aspect an out-and-out horror novel. All the trappings are there: the Dracula-type castle; the forested, mountainous setting; the fast approach of a terrible mid-European winter; the ongoing horrific slayings (often given to us unstintingly); the plethora of terrifying legends encircling these events.

But while there is no doubt that Craig Russell has written a horror novel here, and a Gothic one to boot, it’s also much, much more than that.

At the heart of it lies the fundamental discussion about whether heinous deeds spring from the damaged psyche of human beings traumatised beyond repair or because there is a force of genuine evil in the world. Both sides of the argument are handled intelligently and accessibly, but no easy answers are forthcoming, even Viktor Kosárek forced to wonder at one point if the mental illness that causes men to murder might actually be contagious, a theory no practitioner in psychiatry has ever taken seriously (despite the mass psychosis clearly on display here), and openly and repeatedly referring to this madness as ‘evil’, a politically incorrect term which, even in the 1930s many in his profession would eschew.

Of course, all the time this is going on, we’re acutely aware that, only next door in Germany and Austria, the Nazis are rising to power, threatening a tide of blood and violence, which we, with our hindsight, already know will be perpetrated and indulged in by so many who previously led law-abiding lives that it will make any such conversation seem almost redundant.

For me, this constant awareness of time and place is a key factor in The Devil Aspect’s success.

Many historians have asked the key questions: how did the Nazis ever attain power?; why did so many non-criminal persons end up collaborating in the Holocaust? And the uniqueness of where and when it happened has often been offered by way of at least partial explanation. In The Devil Aspect, this tiny corner of the First Czechoslovak Republic is almost a microcosm of that. To begin with, it’s an isolated community, cut off by geography in this case though by ideology in the wider context, there is poverty, frustration and urban decay, violence is already commonplace, society divided along racial lines (by picking mainly on the underclass, even Leather Apron is mostly eliminating ‘undesirables’). As well as all that, religious belief is on the wane, the strictures that once forbade men from doing evil fading fast, and yet a new humanist Utopia has not arrived and so mysticism has filled the gap, not just notions of Aryan superiority, but dark legends from Slavic mythology too (I challenge anyone to find a scarier deity than Veles, the Slavic lord of the underworld).

Craig Russell also neatly reflects the ambience of Central Europe in the 1930s. From his depiction of Prague as a foggy realm of arched alleyways, narrow cobbled streets and baroque buildings, he is drawing directly on the German Expressionist movement, while the serial killers who seem to abound here are strongly reminiscent of the real-life Weimar Beasts, the succession of mass murderers, from Peter Kurten (who is referenced in the book) through to Fritz Haarman, who seemingly came from nowhere to terrorise Germany between the wars.

Okay, well that’s all very clever, but does it work as a thriller?

Well, I feel there are one or two incongruities. Dare I say it, there may be a couple too many serial killers on show, though my main concern there is that several of them felt a little like window-dressing rather than real characters, and their presence in the plot soon seemed superfluous. I also felt that of the two lead good guys, Captain Smolák was by far the more engaging, an ordinary man doing his level best to hold it all together in the midst of murder and chaos, even though he suffers a personal loss as well, while Viktor is a little wrapped up in his own intellect (though to be fair to the latter, he does become more proactive when he starts to suspect that he knows the main killer’s identity).

These are minor quibbles, though. The Devil Aspect is a majestically written and superbly atmospheric thriller, which though it condenses quite a lot of food for thought into its 475 pages, most of this is so fascinating that you just keep reading. The action sequences, of which there are several, are also damn good, while the mystery itself continues to twist and turn in that time-honoured fashion. All-round, a brooding Gothic chiller that should grace the shelves of anyone interested in truly dark fiction.

And now, as ill-advisedly as ever, I’m going to take it on myself to try and cast this thing in the event that some very smart film-maker decides to put it on the big screen. As usual, only a bit of fun, but you never know, at some point someone with big cash may take the leap. (As I’m pretty short of knowledge re. Czech-born actors, I’m here going for English speakers; you’ll just have to imagine them putting on convincing accents).

Dr Viktor Kosárek – Rami Malek
Capt Lukáš Smolák – Joaquin Phoenix
Prof Ondrej Romanek – Michael McElhatton
Judita Blochova – Emmy Rossum
Vojtech Skála – Jamie Foreman
Filip Starosta – Danila Kozlovsky