Add these spine tingling novels to your summer reading list
The LastBy Hanna JamesonSimon & Schuster, 340 pages, $30
The impending apocalypse, be it of the environmental, nuclear, or zombie variety, is proving an inexhaustible source of material for artists. And is it any wonder? Every month, yet another international agency releases a verdict on our collective future even more dire than its predecessors. The challenge for writers is to find a variation on the apocalypse genre’s now standard fight-for-survival storyline, one that renews our collective fear of planetary collapse. U.K. author Hanna Jameson rises to that challenge with this inventive reimagining of the closed-door mystery novel, setting it in a remote Swiss hotel where survivors of a nuclear holocaust have holed up to escape the fallout. The novel is presented as the diary of historian Jon Keller, who finds the body of a recently murdered girl stuffed into one of the hotel’s water tanks. Keller’s growing obsession with solving the murder, which alienates him from his fellow survivors as they try to prepare for the coming winter, acts as a powerful metaphor for our very human inability to comprehend the bigger picture, especially when that picture is so bleak.
The Laws of the SkiesBy Grégoire Courtois, Rhonda Mullins transCoach House Books, 150 pages, $19.95
Part allegory, part fairy tale, part survivalist/slasher horror movie, combines unrelenting bleakness and violence with philosophical inquiry in a uniquely French style that may take some acclimatizing for English readers. A teacher and two chaperones accompany a dozen children on a weekend camping trip in rural France, one from which, we know from the start, no one will return from alive. The characterizations are sharp and the authorial voice austere, and Courtois never shies away from the moral and spiritual ramifications of his horror-film conceit. An absorbing but troubling read.
Ragged AliceBy Gareth L. PowellTor, 200 pages, $19.50
DCI Holly Craig has made a name for herself in London’s ultra-competitive Metropolitan Police Service, but when a mass school shooting leaves her traumatized, Craig accepts a posting in rural Wales. She is soon drawn back to Pontyrhudd, the small Welsh town she bolted from after high school, to investigate a death that may be connected to the decades-old murder of Craig’s own mother. Science-fiction author Gareth Powell makes a seamless transition to the police procedural novel, creating a believable cast of eccentric small-town characters who both aid and impede Craig’s investigation. Craig is also gifted/cursed with the ability to read the hidden darkness in people’s souls, a character twist Powell puts to good use throughout. Yet for all of its pleasures, is that rare contemporary novel that leaves a reader wishing for a longer page count. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about DCI Craig’s strange gift and tragic past in future novels.
Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of HellBy Nathan BallingrudSaga Press/Simon & Schuster, 280 pages, $19.99
Nathan Ballingrud’s 2013 story collection, the wonderfully unclassifiable , has built a loyal, perhaps fanatical, fan base, all anxious for the next book to drop. The wait is finally over. In , Ballingrud presents six tangentially connected stories that treat Hell not so much as a spiritual realm as a sulphuric black X on old maps coveted by collectors of the rare and the obscene. These stories are an absolute delight to read — visionary, terrifying, funny, and deeply disturbing — while “The Butcher’s Table,” the novella that closes out the collection, is a masterpiece of weird fiction, equal to the short works of Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker and Robert Aickmann.