Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. Even as a child, I wasn’t that interested in dressing up in a costume.
But Halloween does bring with it myriad compelling mysteries that will scare you but won’t allow you to stop reading.
Here are some authors and mysteries that are a real treat. And you don’t have to wear a costume while reading.
Charlaine Harris and her Sookie Stackhouse series are always in style. Just in time for Halloween is After Dead!, an illustrated book with an alphabetical listing of all the characters in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, relating what happened to them after the end of the last book. It was originally intended as a thank-you to readers, but it warranted a general distribution. It has been called “mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud revelations.” After Dead! offers the ultimate conclusion to the Sookie Stackhouse saga, featuring highlights (and lowlights) from the futures of almost 150 characters. Harris has called After Dead! “my coda to the books that have dominated my professional life for over a decade.”
And if you want to have something spooky playing in the background, there is always the HBO series True Blood based on Harris’ Sookie series.
C.J. Box’s The Highway. No vampires, werewolves or zombies are in Box’s standalone novel. But The Highway was the summer’s most terrifying novel. Box based his story on the real hunt for a murderer working as a long-haul trucker —the FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Task Force. While the FBI’s task force statistics are numbing, Box never stoops to the prurient while delivering an edgy, compelling novel.
John Connolly and his Charlie Parker series. This Irish writer whose novels are set in Maine delivers some of the most hard-boiled—and elegantly written—novels about Charlie Parker, a former cop who is haunted by the unsolved murders of his wife and daughter. Start with Every Dead Thing and work your way through his 11 novels. Connolly never lets the supernatural elements overwhelm his story and makes the appearances of Parker’s family believable.
John Searles’ Help for the Haunted: One of the best-reviewed novels of the past month, Help for the Haunted is a ghost story and a coming-of-age tale. Sylvie Mason tries to uncover the secrets behind her ghost-chasing parents’ deaths one cold winter night, and finds truths and mysteries that run much deeper.
Joe Hill’s NOS4A2: Charlie Manx kidnaps children in his Rolls-Royce with the vanity license plate NOS4A2 and takes them to a place he calls “Christmasland,” where every day is Christmas morning, and you never grow up and you never die. But you are turned into something absolutely terrifying. Victoria McQueen is the only child to ever escape Charlie. Now an adult, she must fight to protect Charlie’s latest target—her son, Wayne.
Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece. In this nonfiction book, Montillo traces Mary Shelley's life story and the writing of Frankenstein and uses the novel to explore the dark world of early nineteenth-century science.
Penguin Classics has released six titles in its new Penguin Horror series, edited and introduced by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft; The Raven: Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe; Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories by Ray Russell; American Supernatural Tales, edited by S.T. Joshi, and, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
And since scary is in the eye of the beholder, try Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories From the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, edited by Sarah Weinman. Sarah Weinman’s meticulous research and thoughtful approach illustrates why these 14 women writers highlighted in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives are important to crime fiction. These women’s writings “blur between categories, and give readers a glimpse of the darkest impulses that pervade every part of contemporary society,” writes Weinman in her introduction.
Carla Norton’s first foray into fiction, The Edge of Normal, is an enthralling novel about a young woman rebuilding her life after being held captive for years. But there is more than a ripped from the headlines pastiche as Norton delivers an emotional story of a woman fighting to regain her sense of self, to reach, at least, an edge of normal.
In telling the story of Reeve LeClaire, who was kidnaped when she was 12 and held for four years, the author shows a heartfelt view of victims who, even after they have been rescued, become subjects to be exploited by psychologists and lawyers on documentaries and news shows.
During a recent interview, Norton gave us some insight about The Edge of Normal and the story behind her novel.
Q: Did the discovery of Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry rescued years after they disappeared influence you?
A: My novel was already complete when that case hit the news, but the story certainly made my blood boil. I almost immediately sat down to write a hotheaded essay titled, “How can the Punishment fit the Crime?”
Q: How did you come up with the rituals and routines that Reeve has devised as part of her recovery?
A: In writing fiction, you inhabit your characters, and I confess that her quirks are partly mine. A lot of her defensiveness and her neuroses are just exaggerations of my inner self. Also, I have a scar at the back of my neck, and I have a problem with numbness in my left hand, so Reeve inherited those from me.
Q: This must be a new field. Did you encounter any resistance when researching the subject?
A: People have been generous about sharing information. I’m encountering more resistance in researching the sequel than I did in researching The Edge of Normal, but I can’t go into that.
And this field isn’t really new. It goes all the way back to the ancient myth of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld.
Q: What myths do you hope The Edge of Normal might dispel about prolonged captivity?
A: I had no agenda other than to present a compelling story. But my heroine is rooted in reality, and in one scene she gets angry about the misconception that captives fall in love with their captors.
Q: You've written about this subject before in your nonfiction Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box. Are the myths about prolonged captivity being dispelled?
A: Patty Hearst once said, “When you are held captive, people somehow expect you to spit in your captor’s face and get killed.” That’s less true today. I think public understanding of Stockholm syndrome has evolved. But you’ll recall that Patty Hearst didn’t meet with much public sympathy. Neither did Colleen Stan [Perfect Victim], who was held in a horrific situation for seven years. People didn’t understand why victims didn’t escape at the first opportunity. But perceptions started to shift with Elizabeth Smart’s rescue, partly because she was a child when she was taken, and partly because the media began to take a closer look at captivity syndromes.
Q: Where did we get the term “Stockholm syndrome?”
A: A Stockholm bank robbery in 1973 led a Swedish criminologist to coin that phrase. Hostages were taken and held five days—that’s all—but began to exhibit unexpected sympathy toward their captors. You can see the same psychological effects in many types of captive situations. POWs and hostages exhibit similar symptoms. It’s a survival mechanism. The opposite, I learned recently, is called “London syndrome,” based on a case in which hostages fought back and were killed.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle in the recovery of these victims?
A: I’m not a psychologist, and each individual faces unique problems, but it depends largely on the duration and severity of their ordeal. Having a supportive family is a huge factor in being able to feel safe and in control again. It’s a long road of both physical and mental healing. Just imagine going without any medical or dental care while being abused and tortured and starved. These victims can also suffer long-term effects from being deprived basic things like vitamins and sunshine. It makes me furious to think about it.
Q: As much as she tries, Reeve isn’t quite back to normal, is she?
A: She never will be, but that is her strength. She has endured so much that she has an underlying toughness. She’s damaged but uniquely courageous, perhaps a bit like Lisbeth Salander. Because I wasn’t interested in a protagonist whose strength comes from training, or who is duty-bound to fight crime. Reeve isn’t a cop or a spy. She’s driven by her inner demons.
Q: You vividly show how the victims’ ordeals never seem to end but are rehashed by lawyers, the media and pop psychologists; why did you want to portray this kind of intrusion?
A: Every time one of these cases hits the news, I sit there tearing out my hair because of the inane coverage. I’m one of those crazy people who argues with the television.
Q: Is Reeve’s psychiatrist, the compassionate Ezra Lerner, based on anyone?
A: He’s roughly based on Dr. Chris Hatcher, who testified as an expert witness in Cameron Hooker’s trial, along with a mix of other doctors I’ve known, very compassionate, brilliant men. There’s also a bit of Jonathan Kellerman’s Dr. Alex Delaware, plus a touch of the child psychologist portrayed by Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.
Q: Why was Perfect Victim put on the reading list for the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit?
A: That came as a complete surprise to me. I should probably credit the prosecutor, my coauthor, Christine McGuire, who spoke to the FBI. This was a textbook case of Stockholm syndrome, and the whole trial hinged on volition, on the idea that the victim’s psychological chains prevented her escape.
Q: In your research about prolonged captivity, what was the most horrifying thing you learned?
A: The captors are such twisted human beings. Kidnapping and holding a person captive is an extremely taxing endeavor. Who chooses to dedicate their lives to that? It’s ghastly.
Q: Are you still in touch with Colleen Stan, the woman who endured the events recounted in Perfect Victim?
A: Yes, I’m happy to have Colleen as a friend. She has been working on a memoir, which I hope she’ll get published. She’s had an extraordinary life and she’s an amazingly resilient person. So let’s be clear that she’s now a survivor, not a victim.
Q: Why is the book titled Perfect Victim. What made her perfect?
A: If Colleen had not behaved perfectly, there’s no question in my mind that she would have been killed. The title refers to a young, trusting woman, hitchhiking alone. For a kidnapper, that’s a perfect situation. (True confession: I hitchhiked that same stretch of freeway when I was about her age. Very stupid of me, I know.)
Q: Was The Edge of Normal a difficult novel to tackle?
A: Yes, in some ways, because I needed to convey what Reeve had endured, without sensationalizing it or making it too graphic. You want to suggest the months and years of being locked up, the terrible abuse, without making the reader suffer for years in a basement.
Q: Who do you read?
A: Many wonderful writers. Right now I’m reading John Lescroart. Other favorites are Laura Lippman, Robert Crais, Jeffery Deaver, Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Patricia Highsmith, and Lee Child. And in other genres, Barbara Kingsolver, David Benioff, Karen Engelmann, Suzanne Collins … the list goes on and on, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Q: Is there one book, fiction or nonfiction, that inspired you?
A: The Silence of the Lambs stands out. It’s a brilliant thriller, not only because of the plot, but because of the characters and the prose. I’m indebted to Thomas Harris for creating Clarice Starling, who was whispering in my ear whenever Reeve faced danger.
But there are other novels that deserve kudos, too.
Q: Which other novels?
A: The Collector, by John Fowles, because he so vividly portrayed the psychology of both sides of the captive equation in 1963, even before the term “Stockholm syndrome” was coined. In some ways, Room, by Emma Donoghue is a pioneering book, and so is Misery, by Stephen King, which was published in 1988.
Q: You worked as a journalist for years; how did journalism affect your career as an author?
A: I’m a terrible hoarder of information. There’s a journalistic axiom that, when you start hearing the same things over and over, you know your research is done. And there’s another saying that, just because you know something, your reader doesn’t have to. In other words, don’t cram every item into your story just to show off how hard you’ve worked. Each fact must serve the story.
And that’s true in both fiction and nonfiction. You don’t want to weigh down the story with a lot of exposition.
Q: What are some of the things you researched that didn’t fit into this book?
A: I did a comparison of three particular cases, Colleen Stan, Elizabeth Smart, and Jaycee Dugard, who were each kidnapped by a husband and wife team. That’s a pretty unusual dynamic, and I think there are many interesting parallels in the types of coercion employed. But for my novel, I was more interested in a lone wolf type predator.
Q: What’s the biggest difference in writing crime fiction vs. writing true crime?
A: In fiction, the villains can get what they deserve without legal representation and without due process. The punishment can exactly fit the crime.
Q: How does this inspire your fiction?
A: Reeve, my protagonist, has done similar research, reading all kinds of academic journals, trying to get a grasp on what happened to her.
I love the cooking competition shows, especially Bravo’s Top Chef and the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star.
But I have never seen the Food Network’s Halloween Wars in which teams compete to make the most ghoulish concoctions. But I will tonight because of its special guest judge.
Halloween Wars airs tonight, Oct. 20, at 9 p.m. on the Food Network. If you miss it, there are often encore broadcasts and it is available On Demand.
The creations the teams come up with are very interesting and, while, the displays are made of food, not everything is edible. Even if these were edible, I am not sure I could eat some of these scary displays.
The teams are competing for about $50,000 in prizes. That’s a frightening amount of money.
Previous judges have been Tony Todd, who played the title role of the 1992 movie Candyman, and “scream queen” Daniele Harris, an actress who has appeared in the Hatchet films and will be in the Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D to be released in 2014.
The affable Harris, who is one of the most charming authors I have met, will certainly sink her teeth into her role as judge.
"I could never have pictured the ripple effect of the success of the Sookie books. I've had so many opportunities and experiences that never would have come my way," said Harris in an email.
One of the unique things about being a fan of mystery fiction is that there are many regional conferences across the country. This allows readers to meet their favorite authors without having to travel too far.
So if you are anywhere near Indianapolis this weekend, sign up for Magna cum Murder Crime Writing Festival. The conference also is worth a last-minute plane ticket.
Magna cum Murder XIX will be Oct. 25-27 in downtown Indianapolis at the historic Columbia Circle on Monument Circle.
More than 30 published authors will be on hand for panels, discussions and even some dining events.
Guest of honor is Steve Hamilton, left, who has won myriad awards beginning with his first novel A Cold Day in Paradise, which won the Edgar Award, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and the Shamus Award, sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America. That novel also was nominated for an Anthony and a Barry award. Hamilton again won the Edgar in 2011 for his novel The Lock Artist.
The banquet speaker is Hank Phillippi Ryan, right, whose first novel Prime Time, won the Agatha Award for best new mystery of 2007. She also has been nominated for numerous other awards. Her 2012 novel The Other Woman was chosen as a Best Book of 2012 by Suspense Magazine, and an RTBR Reviewers Choice nominee for Best Mystery/Suspense novel of 2012 and won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. As a journalist, Ryan has won 28 Emmy Awards and 12 Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting. Her latest novel is The Wrong Girl.
Other authors present include Dorothy Cannell, Jerry Healy, Sandra Balzo, Jeanne Dams, Maureen Jennings,Terence Faherty, Sara Hoskinson Frommer, John Gilstrap, Parnell Hall, Ellen Hart, William Kent Krueger, among others.
25 years can go by in the wink of an eye. At least that is what it feels like when we remember something that seems like it was just yesterday but really happened 25 years ago.
A quarter of a century ago this month, Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs was published. At the time, this was a ground-breaking novel, setting a high bar for the serial killer novel. And 25 years later, Silence of the Lambs still is the standard for the serial killer novel.
The appeal of Harris’ novel was not the details of the killer dubbed Buffalo Bill, but rather the relationship between the novice FBI agent Clarice Starling and the brilliant and deranged killer Dr. Hannibal Lector. We had seen fictional killers before but never one so intelligent, a psychiatrist no less, and so manipulative.
Silence of the Lambs, of course, made an engrossing movie starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. The 1991 film won five Academy Awards: best picture, best director for Jonathan Demme; best actor for Hopkins, best actress for Foster and best writing for adapted screenplay for Ted Tally. Silence of the Lambs was third film to win those five major Oscars.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, naturally a new edition of the novel has been released. What is surprising about this new edition of Silence of the Lambs is that Harris has written an “author’s note” describing his inspiration for the novel.
Harris says that during a trip to a prison in Monterrey, Mexico, to interview an American inmate accused of murder, he met a prisoner, whom he nicknamed “Dr. Salazar.” This interaction lead him to create Hannibal Lecter.
Harris first introduced Lecter in Red Dragon and followed up Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal, a well-plotted novel that showed what happened to Lecter and Starling. We should completely forget the feeble Hannibal Rising, the fourth novel about Lecter.
I well remember staying up late to finish Silence of the Lambs.
Later, I lent the novel to my boss at the time who told me he had missed a couple of meetings because he was so engrossed in the story.
The novel still holds up.
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