Book Talk: These tales will haunt

Peter Critchley takes a boo at horror stories NOS4A2, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Boneshaker and 1834 tale The Queen of Spades.

People are drawn to horror stories in much the same way as they are to the chaotic scene of a major car wreck. It is a terrible attraction that most people find impossible to not take at least a fleeting glimpse of the crash scene.

The most compelling tales of horror are equally hard to resist and Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 (2013) is a perfect example. This story slides you along as if you’re driving too fast in a rusty old wreck of a car on a dark, twisty road, with bald tires, no lights and hardly any brakes.

Victoria McQueen, otherwise known as the Brat, discovers she has the singular knack of finding lost things by focusing on the object in question while riding her bike, a Raleigh Tuff Burner. She is subtly carried away into a world that appears to be real as her own, accessed by the Shorter Way Bridge, a gateway that ceases to exist as soon as Victoria crosses back into our world with the found object.

Victoria does not understand her abilities and as she grows older she happens upon a woman with a bag of Scrabble game tiles she uses to divine answers to questions such as the ones Victoria asks. But the woman’s answers are less than satisfactory and it appears Victoria may well be in for some harrowing moments, particularly with Charles Manx.

Manx is the villain of the piece and arrives from a place called Christmasland, an astounding amusement park full of possibilities with as much light and happiness as a dark, stone prison cell.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013) by Neil Gaiman is a “slim and magical feat of storytelling genius” according to a recent review in The Library Journal.

The protagonist, an artist, returns to his childhood home in the English countryside to recover his memory of events that nearly destroyed him and his family. At that formative time the suicide of a stranger opened a gate for a murderous spirit who disguised herself as a housekeeper. The evil spirit won over the boy’s sister and mother, seduced his father and marked the boy for death if he ever told anyone the truth.

The plot rapidly evolves from reminiscent to scary to life-threatening and the protagonist, the anonymous narrator of the story, seeks the help of a warm and welcoming family of witches at a neighboring farm to combat the evil forces that are unleashed by his return.

Boneshaker (2009) by Cherie Priest is a novel written for the young adult audience. But it is an immensely entertaining tale that will entertain adult readers of all ages.

Zombies, steam-powered technology, airships, pirates and mad scientists are all elements of the tightly-crafted story and the characters are as compelling as the intriguing plot.

Mad scientist Leviticus Blue creates a machine that accidentally decimates Seattle’s banking district and unearths a vein of blight gas that turns everyone who breathes into the living dead. Sixteen years later Briar, the mad scientist’s widow, lives in a poor neighborhood outside the wall constructed around the uninhabited city wasteland. Life is difficult and challenging for the widow, especially one saddled with a ruinous reputation. But she and her son Zeke are surviving, at least until Zeke impulsively decides that he must redeem his father’s reputation.

The Queen of Spades (1834) is a classic tale of terror by Alexandr Pushkin, one of the great Russian writers. It is a psychologically complex short story that probably still remains unsurpassed in all of Russian fiction.

Hermann, an ethnic German, is an officer in the Imperial Russian Army. He always watches other officers gamble but never plays himself. One evening a fellow officer, Tomsky, tells him about his grandmother, an elderly countess, who lost a fortune at cards and won it back with the secret of three winning cards.

Hermann, obsessed with learning the secret, confronts the 87-year-old countess and demands she tells him. She refuses, he brandishes his pistol to scare her and she dies of fright. When he attends the funeral of the countess, and passes by the coffin, he is terrified when the countess opens her eyes and steadily gazes at him.

Later that night the ghost of the countess appears before a shaken Hermann and she imparts the secret of the three winning cards. Hermann takes his entire savings to a salon where wealthy men play for high stakes.

Peter Critchley is a librarian at the Vernon library. All these titles and more are available at your Okanagan Regional Library, www.orl.bc.ca.