Tuesday 24 October 2017

Books: Thrills, chills and blood spills, just in time for Halloween

* The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton €18.99
* Night Music, Nocturnes Vol 2, John Connolly, Hodder & Stoughton €20.99
* Little Sister Death, William Gay, Faber €20.55
* The Loney, Andrew Michael Hurley, John Murray €22.50
* Dark Corners, Ruth Rendell, Hutchinson €17.99
* Splinter the Silence, Val McDermid, Little Brown, €19.99

Bloody scary: 'Carrie' (the film version of which starred Sissy Spacek) was one of Stephen King's scariest ideas.
Bloody scary: 'Carrie' (the film version of which starred Sissy Spacek) was one of Stephen King's scariest ideas.
Horror: Ruth Rendell's Dark Corners is not her finest work.

Anne Marie Scanlon

Before the advent of television, Halloween was a time when people told each other stories, stories intended to scare, to frighten, to warn and to leave the listener in no doubt that there are things out there beyond understanding.

The short story is the natural successor to this oral tradition and the scary story suits the short form perfectly. Stephen King, a writer who knows how to make the blood tingle and the flesh creep, gives us 20 shorts in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams which reflect his ability to create supernatural horror or show the nastier side of human nature.

Like King, John Connolly is a virtuoso who can go from eerie and threatening to eccentric and funny - sometimes in just one sentence. His second collection of short stories, Night Music, Nocturnes Volume 2, opens with The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository, about the ur-library where famous literary characters come to life. This marvellous institution, which all book lovers will privately hope is real, also appears in another story later and both are wonderfully funny. In many ways the final story, I Live Here, is the most intriguing - a supposedly true story involving Connolly himself, where he talks about his personal experiences with reading, writing and the supernatural.

For those who like their suspense to last, the Gothic novel is the place to find sustained thrills.

William Gay's 'lost' Gothic novel Little Sister Death is pages and pages of unsettling, sinister stuff. Typically, there's a house at the centre of it all. Writer David Binder becomes intrigued by a famous 'haunted house' and in order to immerse himself in his subject he moves in with his pregnant wife and their small daughter.

Binder's first sight of the house would be enough for most sane people to turn tail and leave.

"A great graywhite bulk looming against the greenback of the riotous summer hills, tall and slate roofed and stately and, he thought instantly, profoundly malefic… Part log, part woodframe, part stone, it seemed to have grown at all angles like something organic turned malignant and perverse before ultimately dying, for Binder saw death in its eyes…" This is not a cosy night-time read.

Nor is The Loney, a stunning debut from Andrew Michael Hurley, a modern Gothic tale, set on the north-west coast of England in 1976.

The Loney of the title is a stretch of the coast overlooked by Moorings, the decrepit house where 15-year-old Tonto, his mute and possibly learning disabled brother Hanny, their very Catholic mother, father and others are staying over Easter.

The group are on a pilgrimage to a local shrine, where Tonto's mother hopes Hanny will be 'cured'.

Hurley is a master at provoking uneasiness. Hanny's mother is a domestic tyrant with a manic belief in the power of prayer and priests.

The death of the old parish priest haunts everyone on the pilgrimage but in different ways. He died in suspicious circumstances, and what sort of man was he really?

The action unfolds in a series of flashbacks and memories from the now adult Smith (Tonto) and the tone is set immediately when, in the present day, the body of a baby is unearthed on Coldbarrow in the bay of The Loney.

The supernatural isn't the only way to get the adrenaline pumping and psychological thrillers are often more frightening than imaginary ghouls.

Val McDermid and Ruth Rendell are both renowned for documenting the darker side of the human personality.

Sadly, Rendell died earlier this year and Dark Corners is her last book.

Unfortunately, it's far from her finest work with coincidences occurring far too frequently and odd, unresolved plotlines - one featuring an absurd unexplained kidnapping.

Similarly McDermid's latest instalment in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, Splinter the Silence, will test reader loyalty.

Carol Jordan is invited back to the police and given carte blanche to form her dream team. The plot centres on the very topical subject of cyberbullying and particularly the trolling of outspoken feminists. It's a fascinating subject but the hunt for the killer is a sterile affair using the near magical powers of the team's resident computer whizz.

Val: your fans know you can do better.

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