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The Road to Halloween | The Reader’s Shelf, April 15, 2016
Halloween may be six months away, but a crop of new horror titles are generating huge buzz and are just dying to be checked out now. From tales of monsters to ecological threats to humanity’s darkest souls, these selections will keep patrons primed for the fear-fest to come.
The biggest release of the genre this spring is The Fireman by Joe Hill (Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062200631. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062200655). A deadly fungus is starting to infect humans, causing them spontaneously to combust and sparking the destruction of society as we know it. When pregnant nurse Harper falls ill, her husband attempts to kill her. Luckily, a mysterious hero is there to intervene and takes Harper to a camp where the sick have learned to control the problem. How long will this utopia last? With impressive action scenes, a well-developed cast of characters, and the hope of salvation resting on original MTV VJ Martha Quinn, this read is another menacing win from Hill.
Grady Hendrix has a penchant for 1980s references, as proven in his much-anticipated follow-up to Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism (Quirk. 2016. ISBN 9781594748622. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781594748639). Packaged to look like a school yearbook, the novel tells the chilling story of Abby and Gretchen as they stumble through high school. That is until one fateful night when, after experimenting with drugs, Gretchen disappears. She resurfaces claiming to be just fine, yet Abby can tell things are anything but. Is Gretchen possessed by the devil? Why is no one beyond Abby concerned? Told with Hendrix’s blend of sardonic humor and frightening dread, this is one scary tour down memory lane.
LaValle is the reigning king of literary horror and his new novella, The Ballad of Black Tom (Tor. 2016. ISBN 9780765387868. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765386618), is set in New York City during the height of the Jazz Age. Tommy is a dutiful son caring for his dying father and making money by hustling wherever and whenever he can. Dressed in his best clothes, he leaves his Harlem residence with an old book, intent on returning with a wallet full of cash. But Tommy’s trip is to the home of a sorceress and his book is the key to awakening a dark magic. He must now navigate the very real threat of racism and the supernatural evil out to destroy everything he holds dear.
In Security (Algonquin. 2016. ISBN 9781616205621. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616205973), the violent, bloody, sexy debut thriller by Gina Wohlsdorf, readers witness events as they unfold as seen through security cameras deployed throughout Manderley Resort. The footage is delivered to a bank of screens watched by a guard. The book quickly switches between the screens and the disturbing story lines taking place across the hotel—at times so fast that the page physically splits into different sections, occasionally requiring the book to be rotated to keep going. This stylistic choice adds tension and unease. With its twisty plot, great characters, and detached tone, Security is a tale that will maintain the interest of even the most jaded fan.
World Horror Grand Master Brian Keene brings fear to the ocean’s depths with a brand new story of a monster so petrifying that it makes Jaws look like a goldfish. In Pressure (Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. 2016. ISBN 9781250071347. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466882492), readers follow Carrie, a champion free diver, as she works alongside scientists to find out why the floor of the Indian Ocean is collapsing. This ecological disaster is complicated by the nefarious in two forms: murderous, corporate henchmen and a deadly alien that is intent on destroying us all. This frenetically paced, gory novel is filled with action and a protagonist to uphold. Pulp horror of the highest caliber.
While Keene has carried the banner for smart, fun, pulp horror for a while, a new author is rising to help shoulder the load. Last year, Jonathan Janz received accolades for The Nightmare Girl, but his latest offering, Children of the Dark (Sinister Grin. 2016. ISBN 9781944044145. pap. $17.59; ebk. ISBN 9781944044169), is even better. From the first line of the novel, Will, a 15-year-old from rural Indiana, makes it known that he has a story to tell—one about the summer when he watched 17 people die. With a serial killer possessing a surprising connection to Will, a recently awakened ancient evil, a boatload of blood, an intensely driven narrative, and fleshed-out characters, this original work exudes that classic horror feel. A perfect choice for those missing old-school Stephen King.
This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons age 13 and up. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All. You can follow her on Twitter @RAforAll