The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Inured to the writerly tricks of most horror novels, it’s rare the Dragon finds a tale so creepy that she jumps at noises in the night. With The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters delivers just such a story.

Dr. Faraday’s mother was once a maid to the Ayres family, and even as a child, Dr. Faraday had loved the Ayres’ family home, Hundreds Hall. In its day, it was a grand manse, but the Ayres family and Hundreds Hall have fallen onto hard times.

Post World War II society is changing, and the old families no longer command the respect or money they once did. Hundreds Hall reflects the decline of the Ayres family with its weed choked yard and crumbling plaster. Mrs. Ayres, her son Roderick, and her daughter Caroline, try to keep the deteriorating estate from falling into collapse, but money and circumstances are against them. Dr. Faraday is called to assist them one day and finds his life slowly intertwined with the fate of Hundreds Hall and its haunted residents.

Waters moves through her story with a languid  pace that is deceiving. While the reader may think nothing of import has transpired, Waters brings every event into sequence, laying the path for an ending that is as surprising as it is haunting.

Waters uses the power of language to evoke one creepy moment after another, building the tension toward a climax that is both astounding and perfectly fulfilling. If you enjoy your novels layered with complexity without cheap tricks, you’ll love The Little Stranger.

Just leave the lights on when you put it down for the night . . .

My rating:

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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

I recently came across an article with a list of “best pirate books” and this one, by Daphne du Maurier, was included.  Even though I’ve read several of her books (years ago Rebecca  and, more recently, The House on the Strand) I had never encountered this particular du Maurier book.  In the mood for something completely different than the other novels I’ve read recently, I decided to give it a go.

Lady Dona St. Columb lives a life of leisure in Restoration-era London with her husband, Harry, and their two small children.  While Harry fills his time with card playing and hard drinking, the jaded Dona chafes under the societal constraints imposed upon her as a wife and mother.   One night she joins with friends to play an unkind prank on an elderly woman.  As she explained to Harry, ” the ridiculous prank on the countess was only a thwarted, bastard idea of fun, a betrayal of her real mood; that in reality it was escape she wanted, escape from her own self, from the life they led together; that she had reached a crisis in her particular span of time and existence, and must travel through that crisis, alone.”  Soon she’s off to Cornwall with the children, leaving Harry behind in London.

When she arrives at the country estate Navron, she finds a new kind of freedom, romping and playing with the children, getting dirty and enjoying the outdoors.  One day while exploring the nearby creek, she comes upon a ship at anchor in a secluded cove.  She has discovered the hiding place of La Mouette, the pirate ship of the frenchman, Jean-Benoit Aubery, who has been terrorizing the coast of Cornwall.  Befriending the ragtag group of pirates, she is drawn into their world and is soon falling for the frenchman himself. 

Will Dona choose freedom, excitement and romance, or will she do the “right”  thing and return to her children, husband and family responsibilites?  We are kept wondering til the end.

Reading a classic such as this one is always a pleasure on several different levels.  There is the pure enjoyment of a story that has stood the test of time, but adding to the experience is knowing that this book was written nearly 70 years ago as du Maurier lived alone in Cornwall while her husband was away during World War II, a time when women were just beginning to gain new freedom and independence.  It has been said that she may have written this particular book to explore her own fantasies of escape from a life of children and a chilly marriage to a distant husband.  Whatever the motivation, this book is filled with du Maurier’s beautiful, evocotive writing which lifts it head and shoulders above a typical pirate romance.

My Rating: 

Quarantined by Joe McKinney

Quarantined If you enjoy dystopian novels, Quarantined is for you. Joe McKinney’s gritty prose brings San Antonio to life, or death, as the case may be. A new strain of the bird flu has mutated into the virus H2N2 and is killing San Antonio’s population by the thousands in a modern-day plague. While the World Health Organization (WHO) races to find a vaccine, the Federal Government seals San Antonio behind a wall patrolled by military personnel, who have orders to shoot potential escapees on sight.

Quarantined is about what goes on behind the wall when a WHO doctor is murdered, and San Antonio homicide detective Lily Harris tries to solve the case in an increasingly hostile environment. Between bureaucratic red tape and shrinking food drops, societal norms are breaking down and the black market burgeons.

Harris finds comfort in the presence of her family and steadfast partner. Yet she stands to lose both family and partner if they can’t find their way out of the city and tell the world about an even greater threat to humanity.

McKinney writes with a cutting edge, and he makes his future San Antonio so real, it could be happening today. The true horror of Quarantined is in McKinney’s ability to construct a plausible scenario for the H2N2 virus and the government’s response.

McKinney’s experience as a homicide detective gives Quarantined real bite as he guides the reader through departmental politics, both within WHO and the local police department. He manages to deliver a mystery with a dark bite, and also writes a believable female character with Lily Harris.

McKinney doesn’t have Harris shake off her cop persona and turn into Martha Stewart when she’s with her family. Her tension rides like a demon on her back, and though she loves her family desperately, she’s not always able to prevent herself from hurting them. She’s a woman torn between her duty as an officer to uphold the law and her need to protect her family, even if it means breaking the law.

Good conflict, a tight mystery, and a dark setting make Quarantined a summer read guaranteed to give you a chill.

My rating: