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. It’s 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 …
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
As the killer prepares to strike again, Rose must pick a side – before a second woman dies.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
You are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.
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
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.
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 ...
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.
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?
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A stolen child.
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...
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.
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...
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…
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.
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.
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…
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 ...
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.
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...
What secrets lie hidden in the darkness?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 …
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