51OugRojXNL. SY346 THE GRAVE­YARD APART­MENT was first pub­lished in Japan in 1986 and is con­sid­ered among Mariko Koike’s best nov­els. With the Eng­lish trans­la­tion recently made avail­able, she will surely find a wider audi­ence for the hor­ror and detec­tive fic­tion for which she is known.

Read­ers look­ing for may­hem and a plot twist on every page may find the events in THE GRAVE­YARD APART­MENT unfold too grad­u­ally for their taste, but those will­ing to immerse them­selves in the tale of a fam­ily trapped in an appar­ently haunted apart­ment build­ing will find much to admire in this sleekly crafted novel of psy­cho­log­i­cal horror.

Misao, her hus­band Teppei, and their daugh­ter Tomao are a young fam­ily newly moved into an apart­ment whose sole draw­back appears to be that it faces a grave­yard. The fact that Tomao’s pet finch dies on the day of the move-​in – and that Tomao claims she and the bird still con­verse – is just the begin­ning of a series of omi­nous goings-​on, includ­ing an ele­va­tor appar­ently under the sway of malev­o­lent forces.

The sense of dread is aug­mented by a guilty secret the cou­ple shares, a tragedy that they’ve pre­sum­ably put behind them. Or per­haps not, and it’s sup­pressed guilt blur­ring their judge­ment, because really, would a young cou­ple with a child move into a build­ing where smoke from a cre­ma­to­rium occa­sion­ally wafts toward the win­dows and grad­u­ally, all the other ten­ants are mov­ing out? If you’re will­ing to accept that premise, how­ever, the hor­ror of an apart­ment build­ing sur­rounded by the dead can grad­u­ally seep under one’s skin.

That said, how­ever, THE GRAVE­YARD APART­MENT fol­lows a well-​trodden path, with obvi­ously creepy occur­ances that esca­late inevitably to the novel’s gen­uinely unnerv­ing con­clu­sion. Not a book to be savored alone at night or for apart­ment dwellers who dread a trip down to the basement.

imagesThe hor­ror the human mind can invent for the pur­pose of inflict­ing suf­fer­ing on our fel­lows is on full dis­play at this macabre and dis­turb­ing museum in the Old City of Car­cas­sonne, France. The focus isn’t on the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, which lasted longer and is more widely known, but an ear­lier one – the Medieval Inqui­si­tion that fol­lowed a cru­sade by the Catholic Church against the so-​called heretic Cathars. In the thir­teenth and four­teenth cen­turies, Car­cas­sonne and other medieval towns like Bezier and Albi were strong­holds of Cathar beliefs, and the Museum show­cases some of the nas­tier ways the Cathars were forced to con­fess to devil wor­ship before, more often than not, being burned at the stake.

51hdTqS3nLA bril­liant and mes­mer­iz­ing novel by John Lan­gan, THE FISH­ER­MAN begins as a tale of two wid­ow­ers and their attempts to come to terms with unimag­in­able grief. The nar­ra­tor, Abe, lost his wife to can­cer some years ear­lier; his friend Dan’s loss is more recent and, arguably, more bru­tal. Next to friend­ship, fish­ing is the great­est gift Abe has to offer Dan. In the search for new places to try their luck, Dan comes up with Dutchman’s Creek, which omi­nously enough, seems not to exist on any map and fig­ures promi­nently in local lore.

Here Lan­gan diverges from his orig­i­nal plot and goes into a lengthy, some­times mean­der­ing story told by the owner of a diner where Dan and Abe stop on their way to Dutchman’s Creek; it’s a dark tale of sor­cery and the fate of a man named Rainer and sets the back­ground for what is to come.

With the his­tory of Dutchman’s Creek estab­lished, Lan­gan returns to Dan and Abe, their bat­tle against the Fish­er­man, and the cos­mic forces in league against them. Here Lan­gan sweeps the reader into a mythic realm of mon­strous sea crea­tures, sur­real seascapes, and shapeshifters capa­ble of chang­ing from hideous denizens of the deep into that for which the men might sell their very souls.

Even with its fan­tas­tic imagery of a creek flow­ing through hell itself, THE FISH­ER­MAN tran­scends genre. Above all, it remains a very human story of loss, friend­ship, and redemp­tion that is sure to cap­ti­vate a wide vari­ety of readers.

1437719821Char­lotte Wood’s new novel, a tale of bru­tal misog­yny set in the Aus­tralian out­back, is both riv­et­ting and, at times, almost painfully intense. Ten young women are drugged, impris­oned, and forced to toil at back­break­ing labor under the super­vi­sion of two men, one a not-​too-​bright yoga prac­ti­tioner (when he isn’t play­ing at prison guard), the other a sadist obsessed with which of the women he’d rape should his mys­te­ri­ous ‘boss’ give him the go-​ahead.

The reader soon learns that each of the cap­tives has some­how trans­gressed the soci­etal rules gov­ern­ing the proper con­duct for women, espe­cially in mat­ters sex­ual. One slept with a priest, another took part in an orgy, yet another had the mis­for­tune to be gang­banged. Wood focuses on two of the women, the brainy Verna, who tries to believe she is ‘dif­fer­ent’ and that her lover Andrew will even­tu­ally res­cue her, and the wily, phys­i­cally pow­er­ful Yolanda, who knows full well no one com­ing to save her and, over time, returns to a feral state, hunt­ing rab­bits and dream­ing of “push­ing her sharp teeth through the soft belly flesh of a zebra”.

Wood’s writ­ing is vivid and often lyri­cal, as when she describes a mag­i­cal inva­sion of hun­dreds of kan­ga­roos, who bound across the camp in ‘thump­ing syn­co­pa­tion” or a flock of cock­a­toos that resem­ble “white laun­dry on a line.” Even in scenes involv­ing great suf­fer­ing, both human and ani­mal, her prose often cap­tures a kind of tran­scen­dent beauty.

As pow­er­ful and dis­turb­ing as this novel is, how­ever, I must admit I found the end­ing dis­ap­point­ing. The image of the women swoon­ing over designer bags and lav­ish make-​up prod­ucts, items that were tro­phy pos­ses­sions in their old lives, rang false to me. On the other hand, given the soci­ety in which we live, I can see how oth­ers might find Wood’s end­ing not only shock­ing but utterly satisfying.

Def­i­nitely a book that needs to be read and dis­cussed by women and men alike.

witchcraft and madness in a small townHEX is the first of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s five nov­els to be trans­lated into Eng­lish, a pow­er­ful and riv­et­ing tale of witch­craft and a town’s slow and ghastly descent into madness.

In 1664 Kather­ine van Wyler was forced to kill her own child and then sen­tenced to death for witch­craft in the Hud­son Val­ley town of Black Spring – a crime the towns­peo­ple have been pay­ing for ever since. Katherine’s ghost pops up every­where, in the midst of a town fes­ti­val, at the bed­side of a child, in plain view on Main Street. She makes for a pathetic fig­ure, bound in iron chains, her mouth and eyes sewn shut to pre­vent her from caus­ing more havoc.

Yet havoc she does cause. Res­i­dents of Black Spring may leave the town for short dura­tions, but for those that linger too long in the out­side world, the urge for sui­cide becomes over­pow­er­ing. You buy a house in Black Spring, as one newly arrived cou­ple learns, you never get to leave.

Teenager Tyler Grant finds the lim­i­ta­tions of life in Black Spring intol­er­a­ble. He recruits some friends, includ­ing one bud­ding sociopath, to help him post videos of the witch on the inter­net, thus vio­lat­ing Black Spring’s most pow­er­ful taboo – thou shalt not let the out­side world know about the witch. What begins as lit­tle more than a prank unleashes an ever-​widening cir­cle of hell, one that sweeps Tyler and his fam­ily up in a hor­rific chain of events.

Heuvelt rewrote the Dutch ver­sion of HEX for an Amer­i­can audi­ence, chang­ing the set­ting to the Hud­son Val­ley and, accord­ing to the author, writ­ing a new and even more shock­ing end­ing. What­ever the lan­guage, it’s a chill­ing novel on many lev­els – from cruel sev­en­teenth cen­tury cus­toms to a har­row­ing and deeply dis­turb­ing vision of human nature.

horror fictionThere are many ways a nov­el­ist can write about the unrav­el­ing of civ­i­lized impulses, but for sheer hor­ror, noth­ing rivals the LORD OF THE FLIES-​style bar­barism of the young and ‘inno­cent’, who we may naively imgaine have not yet attained their full capac­ity for sadism.

In James Newman’s riv­et­ing ODD MAN OUT, the degen­er­a­tion into sav­agery takes place at the Black Moun­tain Camp for Boys, where Den­nis Munce, the fifteen-​year-​old nar­ra­tor, has been deposited by his globe-​trotting par­ents. His one friend is the shy and effem­i­nate Wes­ley West­more, who becomes the tar­get of relent­less bul­ly­ing. At first Munce tells him­self the name-​calling and crude homo­pho­bic jokes are not seri­ous: after all “it was all in fun. Just words.” But as the abuse esca­lates, he’s torn between his own inher­ent decency and the urge for self-​preservation.

With two camp coun­selors side­lined due to a car acci­dent, the boys are basi­cally unsu­per­vised. Munce fan­ta­sizes about tak­ing a heroic stand against the psy­cho­pathic pack leader, but when his own safety is on the line, the choice is clear: “Stand­ing up to a bully in defense of a friend meant sign­ing your own death warrant.”

Years after the week at Black Moun­tain Camp, Munce still strug­gles with what hap­pened and tries in small ways to make up for his com­plic­ity in the tragedy. But can he ever really atone?

ODD MAN OUT is cer­tainly a page-​turner, but make no mis­take: it’s not only engross­ing, but deeply disturbing.

51QThEzR7eL. AC US160 Is the same man who risked his life to save a friend dur­ing the Viet­nam War also capa­ble of rap­ing and mur­der­ing a fourteen-​year-​old girl? Does one act of herosim make impos­si­ble the one of sav­agery? Or is char­ac­ter so fluid and per­son­al­ity so elas­tic that any­one may be capa­ble of anything?

These are some of the ques­tions col­lege stu­dent Joe Tal­bert finds him­self deal­ing with when he opts to ful­fill an Eng­lish assign­ment by inter­view­ing and writ­ing a biog­ra­phy about Carl Iver­son, con­victed mur­derer, now an old man dying of can­cer in a nurs­ing home. Joe’s bur­dens extend far beyond the aca­d­e­mic ones: his alco­holic mother spins in and out of his life like a recur­ring car crash, leav­ing Joe to take care of his autis­tic brother Jeremy.

At first, much of Joe’s inter­est in Iver­son lies in the fact that a pretty neigh­bor, Lila Nash, finds the case fas­ci­nat­ing, but lit­tle by lit­tle, he comes to ques­tion Iverson’s guilt. With his mother in a down­ward spi­ral, Joe also has to decide just how much he’s will­ing to sac­ri­fice for his brother. Eskens’ nar­ra­tive is grip­ping, his char­ac­ters endowed with all the frail­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions of human nature. By the end, I found myself root­ing for a happy out­come for both Joe and Jeremy, who despite his men­tal chal­lenges, helps Joe and Lila uncode a diary that’s vital to Iverson’s case.

By the final chap­ters of the book, the plot twists ratchet up the sus­pense as Joe makes a har­row­ing escape from the clutches of a reli­gious zealot and Lila faces an even dead­lier threat from an unex­pected source. The end­ing may strike some read­ers as a bit too ‘sto­ry­book’, but after every­thing Joe, Lila, and Jeremy have been through, I found it satisfying.

Although THE LIFE WE BURY was pub­lished in 2014, I dis­cov­ered it only recently. Hav­ing read it, now I’m eager to begin read­ing Eskens’ other novels.

the vegetarian han kangThis remark­able, even mes­mer­iz­ing, novel was first pub­lished in South Korea nearly a decade ago, where it became an inter­na­tional best­seller. Only recently has the book gained wide acclaim in this coun­try, after being trans­lated by British trans­la­tor Deb­o­rah Smith.

While not hor­ror in the tra­di­tional sense, THE VEG­E­TAR­IAN con­tains plenty of sur­real images and graphic, often dis­turb­ing vio­lence and sex. Yeong-​hye is a melan­choly and sub­mis­sive house­wife whose bland life is upended when dread­ful dreams of butchered ani­mals drive her to throw out all the meat in the freezer and announce that she is hence­forth veg­e­tar­ian. This seem­ingly innocu­ous deci­sion sends her rigidly tra­di­tional fam­ily into a tailspin.

Clearly the social mores of Yeong-hye’s world con­strain females to a lesser sta­tus. Her author­i­tar­ian father, in a fit of rage, tries to force pork into her mouth. Tellingly, when Yeong-​hye snatches up a knife, it’s not to fend off his brutish attack, but to slash her own wrists.

The book is told in three sec­tions, the first nar­rated by Yeong-hye’s clue­less and indif­fer­ent hus­band, the sec­ond by her smit­ten brother-​in-​law, the third by her sis­ter, who strug­gles to save Yeong-​hye and keep the fam­ily together. Yeong-hye’s own voice is sel­dom heard, as she retreats more deeply into a delu­sional world of silence and self-​starvation.

Tube-​fed in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, Yeong-​hye fan­cies she can turn her­self into a tree. As her fran­tic sis­ter offers her one favorite food after another, each of which is rejected, Yeong-​hye asks, “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

Why indeed? In one poignant pas­sage, doubt is cast as to who is the pris­oner and who isn’t, as Yeong-hye’s sis­ter admits she is unable to for­give Yeong-​hye for “soar­ing alone over a bound­ary she her­self could never bring her­self to cross, unable to for­give that mag­nif­i­cent irre­spon­si­bil­ity that had enabled Yeong-​hye to shuck off social con­straints and leave her behind, still a prisoner.”

The reader is left with a haunt­ing image of Yeong-​hye, still cling­ing to life, being rushed to yet another hos­pi­tal. Her bizarre obses­sion with becom­ing a tree has destroyed her body. Whether or not it has also freed her from some­thing even worse appears to be still in question.

review of weird fictionMichael Griffin’s THE LURE of DEVOUR­ING LIGHT is the short story col­lec­tion of an excep­tional writer, whose evoca­tive, lyri­cal tales are impos­si­ble to for­get. Griffin’s work has been described as “quiet hor­ror”, a sub­genre of Weird Fic­tion. Con­sid­er­ing that Griffin’s prose is both bold and often graphic, the descrip­tion may be some­what misleading.

Nature – seduc­tive, tan­ta­liz­ing, and ulti­mately unknow­able – is fre­quently the set­ting of these sto­ries. In “Far From Streets”, city dwellers Dane and Car­olyn seek renewal by spend­ing week­ends at a cabin Dane built by hand. Sin­is­ter omens abound – from the bird that beats itself to death try­ing to escape the newly fin­ished cabin to the starv­ing young man who seems to be keep­ing watch on them. In the mid­dle of this daunt­ing land­scape, Dane and Car­olyn become lost in more ways than one. As Grif­fin writes of the belea­gered Dane, “Noth­ing had pre­pared him for the pos­si­bil­ity of mean­ings deeper than office toil, with short breaks for television.”

In “Dream­ing Awake In the Tree of the World”, the enig­matic Nomia appears to be a tree-​dwelling nature sprite, a kinswoman per­haps to Rima in GREEN MAN­SIONS. She has res­cued the ill-​fated Tomas and nursed him back to health high in the tree­tops. But in Griffin’s work, real­ity is rarely what it seems. Is Tomas safe in the heart of lush, wild nature or is he fac­ing some­thing alto­gether dif­fer­ent and more deadly?

In “The Acci­dent of Sur­vival”, a ter­ri­fy­ing near-​miss on the high­way leaves two peo­ple badly shaken. As they con­tinue to their des­ti­na­tion, how­ever, it becomes increas­ingly unclear who’s sur­vived and who per­haps hasn’t, and how peo­ple “shaken loose from life” can strug­gle to reclaim reality.

Griffin’s prose sings, but his for­mi­da­ble power resides in his abil­ity to make us doubt our own senses, his abil­ity to explore the deeply unsta­ble and shapeshift­ing nature of what we blithely con­sider ‘reality’.

9781616894542 custom 39c6e478a34afbed9d5879845f153af9e2550e79 s300 c85The story of James Edward Deeds, Jr., who cre­ated this col­lec­tion of haunt­ing sketches while locked inside a men­tal insti­tu­tion, is both inspir­ing and tremen­dously sad, an extreme case of cre­ativ­ity melded with men­tal illness.

Born in Nevada, Mis­souri, in 1907, James Edward Deeds was a shy boy abused by an author­i­tar­ian father. At age twenty-​eight, after con­fronting his brother Clay with a hatchet (whether seri­ously or in jest is unclear), he was taken to State Hos­pi­tal #3, where he would spend the next thirty-​seven years, under­go­ing drug ther­apy and elec­tro­con­vlul­sive shock ther­apy. His poignant draw­ings dur­ing that time – drawn on Hos­pi­tal ledger paper – came to light only recently, after hav­ing been lost to the world for over three decades.

Look­ing at Deeds’ draw­ings is a jour­ney to another world, not the one that Deeds actu­ally inhab­ited, but a quaint, gen­tle era of long-​haired women in plumed hats, grace­ful arbors, and stately pad­dle­boats. Despite their benign charm, the draw­ings seem infused with a quiet under­cur­rent of hor­ror. Deeds’ peo­ple stare out at the viewer with round, stunned eyes and pose stiffly, like peo­ple trau­ma­tized by some­thing so hor­rific that, once seen, can never be forgotten.

Some draw­ings seem to con­tain cryp­tic mes­sages. A par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing one, #33, shows a small, hat­ted man with the cap­tion WHY.DOCTOR. Daw­ings #94 and #95 con­tain the ini­tials ECT, a ref­er­ence to the ther­apy Deeds was forced to endure.

The book’s title comes from draw­ing #197, a metic­u­lous por­trait of a woman point­ing to a bou­quet of posies in her other hand. Deeds cap­tioned the draw­ing ECTLEC­TRC, a ‘mis­spelling’ of the word ‘elec­tric’ in which the ini­tials ECT occur twice and which some have inter­preted as another ref­er­ence to shock treatments.

Deeds story is a heart­break­ing one, and I found the 282 draw­ings both fas­ci­nat­ing and dif­fi­cult to look at. For all the sweet nos­tal­gia for some bygone era the artist never actu­ally knew, they are pow­er­ful and some­times wrench­ing to behold. His draw­ings are surely a tes­ti­mony to the spirit of some human beings to cre­ate art under the worst pos­si­ble circumstances.