I’m in the mood for horror this week, so I’m trying out three authors who are new to me but who have been recommended by someone who knows about these things.
The first book is about a spooky motel in a small town in Upstate New York, the second is about vampires in New York City and the third is a novella about trying to call back the dead.
I’m hoping for engaging characters, a strong sense of place, some creative trope twisting and lots of dread without too much gore.
‘The Sun Down Motel’ by Simone St. James (2020)
It still makes me shake my head when I see a book set in 1982 listed as Historical Horror. That not history to me, it’s memory. Still, I understand the desire to go back in time to tell a story. It frees the writer and reader from the distractions and assumptions of our everyday lives and gives the author the freedom to build a world as they imagine it. Simone St. James tell part of her story from the point of view of Viv Delany, in 1982 and part from the point of view of her niece, Carly Kirk, in 2017. This makes it perfect for an audiobook where Viv and Carly each get their own narrator.
I’m pulled to this book because it’s about a motel. As a Brit travelling for pleasure in the US for the first time, motels were a revelation to me: ubiquitous, anonymous, cheap and instantly available. It seemed to me that only in America would you design lodgings where you could drive your car to the door of your room. As I moved from motel to motel, I realised that, while they were all similar, each one reflected the current level of funding and or enthusiasm of the owners. Some were faded remnants of former times, almost ghosts of themselves. Some had had all their personality cut-away to conform with corporate brand images, making them islands of uniformity unconnected to their location. My favourites were the small independent ones, with a few decades behind them but which showed signs both of loving care and an exuberance that reflected the quirky taste of the owners.
Motels seemed to me to offer the ability to travel anonymously and to reinvent yourself at every stop. Or at least, they did in the eighties, before my mobile phone continuously broadcast my location and when paying cash wasn’t seen as a means of avoiding surveillance. I saw motels as liminal places, sitting on the borders between exhilarating freedom and shame-driven secrecy. They were a threshold between who you are and who you will become that made your identity more labile than usual.
I’m hoping that this book will take me across that threshold to places where threat and opportunity mix.
‘The Lesser Dead’ by Christopher Buhlman (2014)
Three things about ‘The Lesser Dead’ call to me. The first is the setting. To me, New York City is the perfect habitat for vampires. I mean, who is going to notice that you dress strangely, look a little pale and have a few bloodstains on your clothes? And if they did notice, who is going to say anything? I imagine a typical response from a New Yorker as: ‘So there’s vampires. I should care why? They ain’t done nothing to me and I’ve seen worse out there believe me.’ I’m keen to see what Buehlman does with the setting and whether or not his vampires will be real New Yorkers.
The second thing is the idea of vampires not being the apex predators. I’m looking forward to seeing them become prey. I wonder how long it will take them to notice and whether they’ll be able to adjust.
Finally, there’s Christopher Buehlman’s writing. Here’s a writer who is as proud of his poetry as he is of his novels. A man who loves to perform. I’m hoping his language, imagery and off-centre perspectives will make ‘The Lesser Dead’ a rich read.
‘Crossroads’ by Laurel Hightower (2020)
‘Crossroads’ is my roll-the-dice read of the week. I don’t know the author and she’s still at the beginning of her career. The reviews I’ve read are full of praise for the way Laurel Hightower handles this journey into a mother’s grief for her lost child and the terrible choices she faces.
I’m hoping for something that focuses on the emotional impact of confronting grief and fear and uses the supernatural elements as stressors of those emotions rather than as the main vehicle of the story. I’m also hoping that I’ll like this so much that I’ll want to tuck away a copy of Laurel Hightower’s novel ‘Whispers In The Dark’ to read for this year’s Halloween Bingo.