By Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Nightfire, 416 pages, $39.99
Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt is that rare creature: a horror writer who has attracted a loyal readership in the English-speaking world while writing in a foreign language. His novel “Hex” was a smash hit when it was published in English translation in 2016; “Echo” is his follow-up. “Echo” chronicles the aftermath of a mountaineering accident that leaves one man dead and his climbing partner, Nick, hospitalized with horrific facial injuries. The resulting physical deformity is shadowed by a disturbing cognitive disruption that drastically alters Nick’s personality while seemingly triggering a wave of suicides in his network of caregivers. Heuvelt deftly narrates the unfolding cosmic catastrophe from multiple narrative viewpoints while weaving into the story a rich and often clever web of allusions to the literary and cinematic horror traditions.
Beneath the Stairs
By Jennifer Fawcett
Atria Books, 340 pages, $36
Every town has a haunted house, a ruined property on the edge of town stuccoed over in the popular imagination by generations of ghoulish rumour and folklore. In Sumner’s Mills, New York, that role is filled by the locally infamous Octagon House, the site of the unsolved disappearance of a young mother and daughter in the 1930s and a multiple homicide thirty years later. Long abandoned, the decaying mansion remains a tantalizing haunt for local children and teenagers, who dare each other to step over the doomed abode’s front doorstop. In 1998, a group of local teenage girls enter the Octagon House. When they emerge, two have been traumatized by an encounter with … something in the basement. First-time author Jennifer Fawcett traces the origins and aftermath of that supernatural encounter through multiple timelines without confusing the reader or cluttering the narrative with backstory. A promising debut.
Such a Pretty Smile
By Kristi DeMeester
St. Martin’s Press, 310 pages, $36.99
When a serial killer nicknamed The Cur begins murdering teenage girls, Caroline, a successful artist and single mother of an adolescent girl, feels her sanity unravel as the victim count spirals upward. Readers soon learn that Caroline survived an abduction by an uncannily similar predator as a teenager. She soon suspects that her daughter’s own troubled adolescence and rebellious is somehow connected to the killer’s re-emergence. The feminist politics are laid on with all the subtlety of a 1990s riot grrl anthem — every male character in the book save for Caroline’s saintly, comatose father are blatantly, even criminally, misogynist. This is a shame because author Kristi DeMeester’s insights into the inherent creepiness and exploitative nature of the male gaze are already well made by the story dynamics and the riveting depiction of a fractured mother-daughter relationship.
By Catriona Ward
Nightfire, 300 pages, $24.99
Catriona Ward’s breakout novel, “The Last House on Needless Street,” garnered rapturous praise from horror fans and writers around the world, with Stephen King declaring the book a “true nerve-shredder.” “Sundial” may lack “Needless Street”’s show-stopping narrative conceits — such as a cat who narrated several chapters — but it is a better novel. As in all of Ward’s novels (this is her fourth), “Sundial” artfully blends elements of the psychological thriller with the traditional Gothic horror tale, especially the latter’s fixation on oppressive family dynamics. Here the family vibe borders on the homicidal, as Rob, a damaged woman raised in a remote desert compound, tries to evade her husband’s violent rage while dealing with her oldest daughter’s deteriorating mental health. The plot’s twists and turns lead Rob back to the desert for a satisfying confrontation with the ghosts of her violent past.
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