Friday, October 30, 2009
Spooky tales make chilling fireside reading
For some readers, once Halloween is over and the November evenings set in early, there is nothing more appealing than curling up with a good spine-tingler. Books where things go bump in the night make perfect armchair companions as the days grow shorter, and this year, there are many promising chillers from which to choose.
Adults looking for scary fare should look to the Hills – Joe Hill and Susan Hill, that is. These unrelated novelists are at the forefront of ghost stories these days. Joe Hill, who is probably tired of having this explanation follow his name, is the son of Stephen King, so he was raised in a milieu of the strange and fantastic. His novel, Heart-shaped Box, is a ghost story that has broad appeal. As reviewer Coleen McMahon puts it, “Heart-Shaped Box is a bit of a horror tale, more than a hint of Southern Gothic, a road story but above all, it is a tale of redemption.” Its protagonist, an aging rocker, has a jagged, contemporary appeal, and a wicked sense of humor, both of which pull the reader into this tale of revenge.
Susan Hill, who writes wonderful mysteries, has also crafted vintage ghost stories in the style of M. R. James and Charles Dickens, two masters of the craft. The Woman in Black takes all the elements of the classic ghostly tale – mysterious deaths, a dark abandoned mansion, strange events on the moors – dusts them off and presents them with an eerie feeling of dread. Her more recent book, The Man in the Picture, continues this tradition of the refined ghost story, this one taking place in the halls of academe where antiquarian scholars reside and relate hair-raising tales. The page-turners are perfect for readers who like their ghosts without gore.
Dan Simmons is a best-selling author who knows how to spook a reader. His book, The Terror, which came out a few years ago, combines historical fact (trapped sailors on an Arctic expedition) with relentless horror. His most recent novel, Drood, takes an actual mystery (why did Dickens never finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood), adds Wilkie Collins as a narrator and then spins a mystical tale of slow-growing terror. Weighing in at 771 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart.
One need not look only to fiction for entertaining reading. Jeff Belanger’s great compilation Weird Massachusetts is part of a series that focuses on the urban legends and strange lore associated with each state, and Weird Massachusetts is one of the best in the series. Filled with fun facts and photos, this book will appeal to all ages.
Need something to spruce up your dinner conversation? Tell the story of the haunted room at Concord’s Colonial Inn. Want to take your kids on a hunt for something historical? Take them on a search for the Westford Knight. My favorite local story deals with Dudley Road in Billerica. It is the locale of ghost stories, witch stories and abandoned asylum stories – not bad for a short stretch of road that peters out into the woods. Through pure serendipity, my daughter and I stumbled upon this road before we knew anything about its history, and came away thinking it was the most godforsaken byway in the world. No wonder so many ghostly tales emanate from here.
For children, there are a wealth of Halloween books available. New this year is a charming one called And Then Comes Halloween, by Tom Brenner. Holly Meade has illustrated it with colorful paper cut-out scenes. It captures the excitement in a child’s world as Halloween draws near and is the best depiction of the Halloween spirit I have ever read. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito