Category Archives: Novel

{Book} Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane

“What up with all the Hellraiser?” my husband asked me the other day.

‘Tis the season, I guess.

I do rather like Hellraiser, the movie and the Clive Barker story, “Hellbound Heart,” that it’s based on. I believe I’ve watched the second in the series as well, but haven’t further followed the franchise. The mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Hellraiser lore seemed intriguing to me.

How much Hellraiser is in this novel? Quite a bit. This more than a wink-nudge-nod. I don’t think it’s explicitly necessary to be familiar with the movies or additional literature, but I did find the protracted mention of various Cenobites from other sources to be a little tedious.

Similarly, there are a lot of mentions and allusions to the extended Holmes universe, which I enjoyed more since I’m more familiar with that. I am a little leery of non-canon Holmes fiction, especially when it runs along the lines of “Sherlock Holmes Meets [insert famous historical/fictional character]”, but the conceit of Holmes being drawn to the Lament Configuration after his near-death at Reichenbach was plausible. I thought the personality traits of Holmes and Watson were well-represented, but many of the plot points originated from character other than the duo. It wasn’t *quite* deus ex machina, but close in a couple cases.

It was a fun enough book, especially for an October read.


{Book} The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”

The Boats of the "Glen Carrig"

The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” by William Hope Hodgson

Being an account of their Adventures in the Strange places of the Earth, after the foundering of the good ship Glen Carrig through striking upon a hidden rock in the unknown seas to the Southward. As told by John Winterstraw, Gent., to his son James Winterstraw and by him committed very properly and legibly to manuscript.

As I mentioned in my Notes post, I had decided to read Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates between Home Before Dark and the Sherlockathon, but an author’s note in that volume redirected me to The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, the first of a loose trilogy, apparently. The second volume is The House on the Borderland, which I intend to read as part of my Classics List at some point. The House on the Borderland is commonly considered a foundational text of weird fiction and is well-regarded by the likes of H. P . Lovecraft.

I really enjoyed The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. I get in the mood for sea adventures every once in a while, especially ones with a bit of supernatural flair. Two boats make it away from the wreck of the Glen Carrig. They encounter a desolate island full of shrieking fungi, storms, a continent of kelp, giant crabs and squids, and finally an island near another wrecked ship with survivors who have been marooned for seven years. Alas, the island/kelp sea’s natural inhabitants are strange squid men.

My forever beef with weird fiction is that it often falls back on “It was indescribable and therefore drove me insane!” Hodgson’s narrator does his best to describe all the uncanny elements and then he and his colleagues proceed to kill the things with fire. Is he later nervous and a little haunted by the things? Sure. But the goal is always survival. Does that make this a less sophisticated story? Maybe, but also a more enjoyable story in my opinion.

In the later part of the novel, Hodgson does get wrapped up in describing how the ship marooned in the kelp sea is eventually put into sailing shape again. All of the sea voyaging seems pretty realistic to me, which also grounds the fantastic elements, but some of these bits are drier than Melville’s whale chapters in Moby-Dick.

{Book} Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

I was on-board for this novel’s concept. The narrative is split, every-other-chapter, between a best-seller Amityville Horror-type book call House of Horrors and the experiences of Maggie, the grown daughter of the family who survived the haunting. Maggie’s life has been over-shadowed by “the Book,” but she doesn’t remember most of what happened at Baneberry Hall (the House of Horrors). Her mother and father, now divorced, won’t speak of it. At all. The only thing that she’s told is that she should never, ever go back to Baneberry Hall. Maggie believes there is a lot of lying going on. When her father dies and she learns that she has inherited the property (which her father still owned!), she of course goes to Baneberry Hall.

(There is some criticism that Sager uses “Baneberry Hall” a lot, more than is needed. I will contest, it’s weirdly addictive. Baneberry Hall.)

The problem with this sort of past/present narrative device is that, as a writer, you either need to be very honest with the story and make sure there are no holes, or you need to sweep the reader up in such a whirlwind of events that there is no time for questions. Sager goes for the latter and honestly that works for many readers. But I can get pretty annoyed by petty things, and that happened to me here. I had too many questions. (Possible spoilers ahead:) For example, knowing a little about the amateur ghost hunting community, how is it possible that there is no information online about the pet cemetery or the breech in the wall around the house? Maggie does some internet research and it’s stated that there are a lot of tourist “ghouls” interested in the house. I find it pretty unlikely that there wouldn’t even be a rumor online that the Book isn’t entirely factual. Were Polaroid instant cameras in the 80s-90s light enough to maneuver around for “selfies” and did the pics develope fast enough to track a ghost? I’m guessing that the modern instant cameras are lighter, less bulky, and have better developing processes, but my grandma’s Polaroid was a brick and after waiting for a few minutes for the picture to develop, you’d realize the lighting had led to over-exposure. Also, in what reality was there ever the attitude of “Oh, a teenager is dead. Who cares?” (July 6, Day 11, pg 318 in my copy…) Especially in a small New England town?

There was just too much of those things for me, and honestly, not enough creepy atmosphere to keep me distracted.

The Lady of the Shroud

The Lady Of The Shroud

Never have I ever felt so much like a bait and switch had been perpetrated on me…

Well, maybe it’s partially my fault.

I’d read in advance that this was an “adventure” novel, but I thought maybe this was being said by a stuffy academic that didn’t want to admit that a piece of literature contained supernatural elements. The first 40% of this book played into that notion. The novel’s epigraph is about a ship’s crew seeing a ghostly Lady in a Shroud adrift in a coffin off the coast of the Blue Mountains. Rupert Sent Leger inherits a large sum from his uncle, but is required to spend a year in a castle in those same Blue Mountains (an area in the Balkans). This is a prime Gothic set up, with a Bram Stoker requisite number of solicitors involved. After settling in, Rupert is visited in the night by a Lady in a Shroud. He thinks she might be a vampire and that notion is reinforced by his seeing her in a glass coffin and the psychic premonitions of his Scottish aunt. After a few encounters, Rupert falls deeply in love with the Lady and a dark marriage is performed.

Along side this, Rupert is bent on gaining the trust of the surrounding mountaineers and is willing to spend a good deal arming them against the Turks who are eternally bent on invading. The story turns when we learn that the daughter of the local Voivode has been captured. Spoilers: this is, of course, the Lady of the Shroud. How? It was politically advantageous for her to appear dead. She is rescued by Rupert. Her father is also rescued when the Turk kidnap him and Stoker proves he doesn’t quite know how an aeroplane works. (I mean, can’t you anchor it like a dirigible?) Things are still not that bad in this section. There is some strategy involved and it’s actually Lady Teuta who has to swing down from the aeroplane to retrieve her father. But that’s all over by the 70% mark.

The remaining 30%? Well, I got through 10% and skimmed another 5%. Rupert and Teuta’s secret marriage is out of the bag and no one has a problem with it. Teuta becomes the usual universally beloved (which happens to most women in Stoker’s fiction) and she gives up her pretending-to-be-dead rope-swing ways. The Turks are still lurking about, but are no match for the mountaineers, especially now that Rupert has supplied them with guns, a semaphore system, a war ship, an aeroplane, and Scottish highlanders to keep everyone disciplined. According to the pundits, who I now believe when I didn’t before, the rest of The Lady of the Shroud is more of the same. And I decided that I had better things to do.

{Books} Two Short Reviews

The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Cover: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark was the July pick for the Occult Detective Book Club (a group on Facebook and Goodreads, if you’re into such literature). It is set in the same universe of “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” which I read and enjoyed back in January of this year. “Djinn” is available online, so I reread that before diving into Tram Car 015.

As I mentioned with “Djinn,” the world building is very deftly done. I’ve generally had a problem with steampunk because usually it’s not just retro science-fiction, but 19th-ish century sci-fi mixed with Gothic/supernatural elements. It’s just too much. Clark, though, blends “advanced” technologies and the supernatural seamlessly. The supernatural is, in fact, why this version of 1912 Egypt has the technologies it does.

I felt like the characters in Tram Car 015 were a little less compelling. Agents Hamed and Onsi are fine, but Fatma (from “Djinn”) is such a great character that they suffer in comparison. Both stories are good though; they’re set in the same world, but not directly connected. I’d definitely read more if Clark wanted to spend more time in this setting.

Levels of the Game

Cover: Levels of the Game

I found Levels of the Game by John McPhee while looking for McPhee’s Draft No. 4 (recommended by Deb @ Readerbuzz). The latter was listed in my local library’s online system, but really the license had expired and I’m on a wish-waiting list for it if the library decides to renew the license, but! Instead I noticed another book in McPhee’s catelog with a tennis court on the cover. Nonfiction about tennis? Yes, please. (Tennis is my summer sport. But there are no sports this year. Sadly, this doesn’t mean there’s no summer this year…)

Additionally, the structure of this book is rather curious, and since I’m thinking about writing a nonfiction book, I wanted to see how McPhee would pull it off. Levels of the Game is fairly short, less than 150 pages. In it, McPhee profiles two tennis players, Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, as they play a match at Forest Hills in 1968—the first US Championship tournament of the open era (meaning both amateurs and professionals could compete). As is mentioned in the book’s summary, McPhee begins with the first toss of the ball. Interspersed with the action of the match are biographical digressions comparing and contrasting the players.

Ashe and Graebner met in the semi finals of the tournament. Why write about a semi final? The two players were both American and Davis Cup teammates. But they were also very different. Ashe was a quick, finesse player; Graebner was more reliant on power and consistency. Ashe was a black, raised by a disciplinarian single father who held down multiple jobs to support his family. Graebner, white, was the son of a doctor and wanted for nothing in his life. Politically, one was of course more liberal and one more conservative. McPhee contends this influenced their styles of play as well.

I’m not sure if the conceit of the book, the stories told during the match, entirely works. The match itself didn’t seem that interesting and I was unaware while reading that this was the first US Open and that Ashe would be the only amateur player to ever win it. I did appreciate how McPhee moved smoothly between past and present and didn’t burden himself further by telling things in absolute chronological order.

I also didn’t realize until after I checked this book out that I read McPhee’s A Sense of Where You Are, a profile of basketball player Bill Bradley, back in 2011. I enjoyed that too. If anything, now I want to read Draft No. 4 more.

{Book} The Changeling

The Changeling

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air. Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts. Apollo then begins a journey that takes him to a forgotten island in the East River of New York City, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest in Queens where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. This dizzying tale is ultimately a story about family and the unfathomable secrets of the people we love.

Summary via Goodreads

I really enjoyed LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and was looking to read more from him. I believe I put The Changeling on my TBR list when I was looking for successors to Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks. As I was reading I thought that The Changeling was like a cross between War for the Oaks and the movie Hereditary, so I guess it scratched that folklore-in-the-mordern-world itch!

I didn’t know where this book was going to take me and I really enjoyed that. I don’t know how much I want to say about the crux of this book because it surprised to me and I really don’t want to spoil it. There was a really great interplay between technology/social media and old world folklore. To me, if you’re going to tell urban fantasy stories, that’s what’s needed to be more than “Hey, look! A werewolf in the streets in the year 2018!” (Note: werewolves are an example here. There are no werewolves in this book.)

But, my other comparison is Hereditary. The Changeling is definitely horror. There are some horrific things, but also a pervasive sense distrust and wrongness throughout the story which makes it tense and discomfiting. The story is slow to get going, but that’s because LaValle carefully lays a base for these characters. Their pasts matter to the story; not just in making the reader care for them, but giving them reason for acting the way they do and what situations they find themselves in.

In general, I haven’t enjoyed a horror novel this much since Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Child. Victor LaValle is fast becoming one of my favorite “new” authors.

Publication: Spiegel & Grau, 2017
My Copy: Overdrive/Kindle edition, Tempe Digital Library
Genre: horror

{Book} Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Sean, an excitable Weimeraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

Cover and summary via Goodreads

Meddling Kids has been on my TBR list for a while, but I decided to read it now because it was the June pick for the Occult Detective Book Club.

I wanted to like this book more than I did.

I’m not a huge Scooby-Doo fan, but it was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid and has probably had an out-sized influence on the way I see the world. While I like reading about the supernatural, I don’t actually believe in it. Scooby-Doo is kind of the opposite of occult detectives: the mysteries investigated look supernatural, but aren’t. It sits firmly in a skeptical space. I was a skeptical kid and I’m a skeptical adult.

But as I said, I do like reading about the supernatural, so I was looking forward to the twist of Meddling Kids. The gang, grown up, face a paranormal mystery. Additionally, the story is set in the Lovecraft-verse.

I liked the setting, but I wasn’t very attached to the characters. I liked the majority of the plot. The reversals were nice and I like a good dead-friend’s-ghost advisor character. Unfortunately, the real hurdle for me was the writing.

There are a lot of winks and nudges. Zoinx River? Jinkies. While Arkham is mentioned by name, H. P. Lovecraft is referenced as an author named Howard. According to Wikipedia, Meddling Kids is also inspired by Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five series that began publication in 1942. The Famous Five are Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (nick-named George) and their dog Timmy. I had no idea about this series, but the nods are obvious, especially since Meddling Kids is set in Blyton Hills, Oregon. And it comes off as a little too clever for its own good.

Also in that too-clever category, some of the writing seems stunt-like. Kerri’s hair being sort of cartoon-sentient was…weird. (I have curly red hair. It isn’t that fun.) Some of the adverbs choices were odd. A candleflame silence, a flock of hair. Then there was the page and a half long sentence that was part of an action scene. Kind of the equivalent of a long one-shot in a movie. Speaking of movies, sometimes the dialogue would slip into screenplay-ish format. What is that about? Maybe I’m old and boring, but it was a little too much for me.

I didn’t totally dislike Meddling Kids. I did finish reading it after all, and it was a fast read, but it didn’t quite live up to what I hoped it would be.

Publication: Doubleday, 2017
My copy: Tempe Public Library Overdrive edition