Read Recently — March 2015 — Horror

Maplecroft: the Borden dispatches by Cherie Priest

I always believed Lizzie Borden was innocent. Okay, not always. I mean, there was a portion of my life when I was unaware of the existence of Borden and her alleged crime; but somehow I got into true crime at a young age and read up on the case; I am convinced that had I been on that jury I would have voted to acquit.

Priest brings us a Lizzie Borden who is guilty, though she was acquitted thanks to the testimony of a doctor neighbour. Lizzie now lives in a big house on the edge of town with her ten-years older, consumptive, sister. The house is called Maplecroft.

While Lizzie did kill her parents (or, technically, her father and step-mother) she did so because they were slowly transforming into something alien. Hostile. The doctor saw it, once the transformation was far enough along, and that led to his defense of Lizzie.

Now, at Maplecroft, Lizzie takes care of her sister Emma and maintains a lab in the basement. The lab contains many dangerous things, of which perhaps the most dangerous is Lizzie herself. Emma, who can’t get around so well on her own, has a scientific turn of mind and exchanges letters with scientists around the country under a man’s name (it is the 19th century, after all). She sends a particular sample to a Professor Zollicoffer at Miskatonic University (in Arkham; the town’s name is never mentioned, but Miskatonic is in Arkham). This sample, it turns out, has a particular . . . nasty effect on Doctor Zollicoffer.

Lizzie in a relationship with an actor named Nancy “Nance” O’Neil, though given the danger of what Lizzie is dealing with it’s mostly a long-distance relationship. For Nance’s own good, of course, but Nance is hardly the sort of girl who’s going to put up with that. She drops in and soon, as was feared, starts to wonder what Lizzie’s up to in that basement. There’s something down there that’s calling to her . . .

And every now and then something comes and tries to find its way into the house. Monsters with glass fangs and clawed hands, but they are not the equal of Lizzie’s axe.

And the doctor (Doctor Seagrove) is called to help investigate a case involving a local boy who seems to have found something by the ocean and is now slowly transforming into something strange but, to the Doctor, familiar . . .

Priest visits Lovecraft Country here, but the story is not Cthulhu mythos (or at least, not explicitly. Much is still hidden at the end of the book, but the presence of Miskatonic U is the only explicit bit of mythosania. Something is lurking about and it could be from the Mythos, or it could be Priest’s own creation).

I found the book frightening. Throughout the story there I had a feeling of creeping dread, a fear that something horrible was going to happen to people of whom I was becoming very fond and that is what real horror, in my opinion, should be about.

Highly recommended.

Voices From Beyond: a Ghost Finders novel by Simon R. Green

There is little of that dread in Green’s latest (but not none of it; towards the end I became briefly very worried for some of the supporting characters), but then, Green is writing a heroic urban fantasy rather than a real horror novel.

Once again, the Ghost Finders are called to a case in the first chapter, where they find that a University Professor decided to hold a small psych experiment in the English version of the Amityville house (that is, family moved in, kid got invisible friend, some neighbour kids vanish, family moves out, no more supernatural stuff reported at the house). He brought a small group of students to sit in the the living room and use a OUIJA board while he filmed it. The kids all got their souls ripped out by something from outside. Fortunately, JC and Kim are able to enter the otherworld and get the kids’ souls back.

When next we see our heroes,after JC has a brief but informative meeting with the head of the Carnacki Institute, they are rendezvousing at a small indie radio station out in the countryside, but no one knows why they are there. As JC waits in the parking lot for the others to show up, he encounters a dying version of himself from the future, come back to tell him that failure awaits. He then dies, and vanishes.

It seems that the station has had a problem with ghost voices breaking into their broadcasts, screaming, warning about the future. Exactly what they’re warning about isn’t clear, but eventually the other two ghost-finders meet their future selves and we learn something more about what’s going on: something from outside is coming to the station, and when it arrives the world is going to end. Our heroes will be among the first victims. And when will all this happen? Tomorrow. The Ghost Finders have about 8 hours to save the world. No pressure.

This isn’t a bad one; as noted above I was worried for the characters occasionally, and in fact I liked all the characters we’re supposed to like. The story works on its own and the background plot arc chugs along the way it’s supposed to. My one complaint, and this may be a minor spoiler, is that the villain of the main story is of course the villain of the first chapter and it takes our heroes forever to realize it, even after they and we are hit over the head with proof. I don’t think it would have hurt the story to have them come around sooner.

Overall, recommended for those who’ve followed the series thus far. Those who haven’t but wish to should purchase Ghost of a Chance.

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