Everyone knows the candy is one of the best parts of Halloween, in spite of the fact its tiny size seems to somehow exponentially increase its addictiveness. Still, a mini Twix bar or two (fine, four) is the perfect accompaniment to reading spooky Halloween stories. But not too spooky, at least for me. If I read something too creepy, I’ll end up being as nocturnal as Dracula for a week, out of self-defense. When I was nine or ten, I read a ghost story that involved someone waking up to an alleged spectre gripping their hand, and it sparked my lifelong habit of sleeping with my hands under the blankets or pillows, since bedding is obviously an infallible shield against monsters and evil spirits.
I think it’s clear by now that my idea of suspenseful, macabre stories may seem tame to dedicated horror fans. I do have a few books on my Halloween reading list, though. I haven’t finished them all yet, so I can’t speak as to the level of spookiness. Hopefully I’m not in for a terrifying surprise.
First on my list: “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”, both by Edgar Allan Poe. I vaguely recall reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” but this is the right time of year for a refresher, and I have never read “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I feel like I should read these two by candlelight, for full effect.
Next, I have picked up a copy of Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield. I loved her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, and this one sounds quite dark and fascinating.
“Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all…But rooks don’t forget. Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn – and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business. And Bellman and Black is born.”
I saved the best for last, because I’m really excited to read this one. Newly released, The Clearing by Dan Newman is also on my list. I know it will be fantastic. The book description evokes enough tense curiosity and images of eerie jungle shadows that I can only (eagerly) imagine how gripping the story itself will be. I sense the pending cancellation of plans while I finish reading. It’s also represented by Carrie Pestritto, Most-Excellent-Agent, and that is the brightest gold stamp of approval you can get.
“In 1971, four boys walked into a jungle. Only three came back alive. They blamed what happened on a mythical monster, but no-one believed them. Forty years later, the truth is finally coming out…Journalist, Nate Mason, is one of the survivors. Haunted by memories he doesn’t fully understand, he returns to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia to unravel the tragic events of his childhood. Back then, as the son of a diplomat, Nate was part of an elite social circle. This included the island’s “royal family”, the De Villiers, who owned a decaying mansion deep in the jungle, staffed by the descendants of slaves. It was here, during a weekend of whispered childhood secrets and dares, that Nate’s innocence was torn apart. But Nate’s not the only one obsessed with the demons in his past. Within hours of arriving back on the island, he becomes convinced he’s being followed. But even though he soon realizes he’s risking his sanity as well as his life, he can’t stop himself from searching for the answers he came here to find. Can childhood nightmares haunt you for the rest of your life? How much do you need to believe in a monster for it to become real? The Clearing is a dark and atmospheric psychological thriller, full of intrigue, terror and superstition, which examines our deep fear of the unknown.”