I’ve been reading a lot of horror lately, and fiction to boot! (Usually, I stick with nonfiction, true crime, and memoirs.) As the days get shorter, and the nights longer, what better way to while away the extra hours of darkness than to shiver with some spooky stories?
I read two new anthologies back-to-back. The first one is called Seize The Night, and it’s all about vampires.
“The notion of the romantic vampire is transcended to chilling and even heartbreaking effect in this stellar anthology of tales…These stories move smoothly from the subtle to the horrifying…” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
These are original, blood-curdling vampire fiction from New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Charlaine Harris (whose novels were adapted into HBO’s hit show True Blood), and Scott Smith (publishing his first work since The Ruins).
Before being transformed into romantic heroes and soft, sparkly emo antiheroes, vampires were figures of towering terror. Now, from some of the biggest names in horror and dark fiction, is this stellar stack of short stories that make vampires vicious once again. Edited by New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden and featuring all-new stories from the likes of the aforementioned, as well as John Ajvide Lindqvist, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Michael Kortya, Kelley Armstrong, Brian Keene, David Wellington, Seanan McGuire, and Tim Lebbon, Seize the Night is old-school vampire fiction at its finest.
My favorite stories were: Up In Old Vermont, by Scott Smith. It’s about Ally, a down-on-her luck caretaker who, in her darkest hour, miraculously finds a job watching an Alzheimer's in exchange for room, board, and a stipend. Sounds perfect, but of course, it’s not. Whisky and Light, by Dana Cameron. It’s a period piece, and center of superstitions steeped in historical fact. The Last Supper, by Brian Keene. It’s about the downside of immortality and is a tale succinctly, brilliantly, told.
The next anthology I read was 18 Wheels of Horror: A Trailer Full of Trucking Terrors, Edited by Eric Miller. I read this book because some of my favorite writers (and friends) are featured in it pages (or pixels, in my case – I Kindled it), but was pleasantly surprised to be hooked regardless of my connection to any of the authors.
The description reads: "Psychotic killers, devious ghosts, alien monsters, howling storms, undead creatures, and other dark forces haunt the highways and the truckers who drive them in these 18 chilling tales! A ghostly voice on a trucker’s CB radio knows more about his life than it should… Two drivers find their cargo gives them inhuman appetites… A boy in a truck stop encounters a supernatural force that threatens to destroy the world… The hypnotic singing lulling a driver to sleep might not be coming from the tires… A fender-bender between a big rig and a four wheeler is not as accidental as it seems… The sinister cargo lurking in a rock and roll band’s fleet of trucks is unleashed at their final show... Hit the road with this anthology of trucking horror fiction!"
My favorite stories were: Whistlin’ By, by Shane Bitterling. This is hillbilly horror at its finest distillation, about an extremely superstitious truck driver who makes the mistake of whistling past a graveyard; even though he takes all the precautions, fate has other plans for him. Lucky, by Del Howison, is the only story about a female trucker, and she turns out to be so lucky after all. Happy Joe’s Rest Stop, by John Palisano. This story, set in a truck stop convenience store, reminded me of a cross between The Mist and Phantasm, but with its own unique twists and turns. Take the Night, by Joyce Holden. I am a sucker for anything to do with guitar stars and bands on the road… in this trippy tale, it turns out the lead singer of a rock group has sold his soul to the devil, and the 18-wheelers on the tour are carrying more than just amps and instruments.
Did I mention I’m a sucker for rock star stories? Well, I also recently finished the novel, The Nobodies Album, by New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Parkhurst. I fell head over heels in love with Parkhurt’s unique, unforgettable, indelible writing style and wholly unique way of thinking when I read her debut novel, The Dogs of Babel, back in 2003. She’s not a prolific writer, so it took years for her second book, Lost and Found, to come out. I skimmed through it, having trouble with all the characters. So then I kind of forgot about Parkhurst – though I am an avid follower of her funny Twitter feed – until it came time to interview her for my podcast, Dread Central Presents: Killer Queens, which I cohost with Vanessa Gomez. I picked up her third novel, The Nobodies Album, which came out a few years ago, and didn’t put it down until I was finished. What a story!
Here’s the official description: “Centered around a famous novelist Octavia Frost, The Nobodies Album explores her troubled relationship with her son Milo. When Milo, a renowned alt-rocker in San Francisco, discovers his fiancée brutally murdered after a night in which he has blacked out, he finds himself the prime suspect in the international media circus that follows. Having been estranged from Milo for many years, Octavia sees this as a chance for reconnection and redemption. The two share a difficult past, their relationship never having fully recovered from the accidental death of Octavia's husband and daughter. And it is the tentative progress of their bond that propels the heart of Parkhurst's story.”
Even though there’s a lot going on in the book (as there was in Lost and Found), I had no trouble following it and sticking with it, because it’s all from the first person perspective of one person. It’s got elements of the Sid Vicious / Nancy Spungeon murder case; an ageing rock star who brought up a daughter not his own (which reminded me of Todd Rundgren raising Liv Tyler as his own, until the truth came to light that she was Steven Tyler’s lust-child); and a writer wanting to go back and rewrite history – which was reminiscent of the recent news surrounding Harper Lee’s prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird being published against her will.
Parkhurst’s stories – always centered around grief and uneasy family dynamics – are like page-turning beach reads, in spite of the very dark, insular subject matter. Laced with humor and pathos, I must say: The Nobodies Album is one of the best novels I’ve read since burning through all of Gillian Flynn’s oeuvres.
Next up is the first in a new series by L.J. Oliver, the combined force of New York Times bestselling author Scott Ciencin and acclaimed author E.A.A. Wilson, called The Humbug Murders. According to the press release party line, “Readers are in for a chilling ride as they join Ebenezer Scrooge in his pursuit of a killer through the streets of Dickens’ London. Full of action and wry humor, The Humbug Murders is a fun take on a classic character—Scrooge as you’ve never seen him before.”
I can’t wait to dive in. I am a huge fan of “What if?” stories and alternate reality fan-fic. One of my faves is the series by Harold Schechter, which feature Edgar Allen Poe as a crime-solving amateur detective.