true crime

Wicked Wednesday: Summer 2021 Horror reads

Since the start of all this pandemic business, I’ve been reading less than I have in previous year. I have no motivation and no boring, 1-hour commute on the train. But I still tried to squeeze in some horror novels over the summer. Now that September is drawing ever closer (!), I’ve made a brief wrap-up of the horror titles (and true crime) I’ve read in the last three months.

Pleased to say that all of these are good enough to recommend!

Adult fiction:

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl, a woman who survived a massacre over two decades ago. She and the other final girls make up a support group, relying on each other while trying to overcome their trauma. But when Lynette realises that a new killer is targeting the final girls, she must do everything she can to keep them all alive.

It’s no secret that Hendrix is one of my favourite authors of all time. He writes with a beautiful balance of humour and scares that I love – all with great poignancy. Alas, this might be one of the weaker titles from him. I think that for me, it’s because this is more of a thriller than true horror – no supernatural elements this time. It clips along at a great pace with great characters, but the plot was lacking in some respects. Namely in the relationship-building of the support group.

But that being said, there’s still great messaging about survival and trauma. Everything Hendrix writes is gold. Seek out interviews with him about the origins of this story idea if you’re in the mood for a cry.

Bonus points that the audiobook is narrated by final girl Adrienne King!

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Part fantasy. Part horror. This novella is a supernatural twist on American history during the height of the KKK’s reign. Maryse Boudreaux is a smuggler and fighter with a magical sword. With that sword, she can kill the “Ku Kluxes”, a type of demon. The demons are a creation of a hexed version of the film Birth of a Nation.

Clark fills a lot of action, folklore and mythos into the short page count. Easily a book you could consume in one night. One worth going into without knowing too much!

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

This was my first foray into Martin’s work. Incredible, really, considering just how prolific this man is. Fevre Dream is what happens when you mix Dracula with Mark Twain.

A steamboat captain and his unusual new business partner begin travelling down the Mississippi River in a steam boat in the year 1857. Unbeknownst to the captain, his new partner is on the look out for vampires.

This is a great, atmospheric version of the vampire story. It’s heavy and full of gothic air. Martin is terrific at building suspense, I was pleasantly surprised! Will certainly be looking at which horror novel (or short story) to read by him next.

Children’s

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Daka Hermon’s novel is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in a long while. She manages to perfectly encapsulate children’s imaginations when they become a little dark and twisted.

When Justin’s friend Zee returns after going missing for a year, he knows something isn’t right. Zee isn’t himself. At Zee’s welcome home party, the children all play hide-and-seek. Only the game isn’t as innocent as they may think, especially when one of them breaks the rules.

This book reminded me of playing games with my multitude of cousins when I was younger. The games were always a bit morbid. It’s certainly a creepy story, though, about abductions and missing children. Thrilling, but within the comfort zone for Middle Grade readers.

One Day at HorrorLand by R.L. Stine

A classic in Stine’s repertoire. I decided this summer to revisit some classic children’s horror, and where better to start than with the master himself?

When a family accidentally wind up at the HorrorLand theme park, they decide to try out a few of the rides. But not everything is as it seems in the park.

This is some classic Goosebumps. There’s a twist…then another twist! Gleeful and quick to read. There are more in a spin-off series to read that I might get to…one day. There’s also an adaption for the original Goosebumps TV show that I’ll need to hunt down ASAP!

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Rarely do I get to read “nice” things at work. But this graphic novel written and illustrated by Hamish Steele was an absolute treat.

When Barney gets a job at the Dead End theme park, he’s in for more supernatural hijinks than he expects! His dog gets possessed, he meets plenty of ghosts, and he faces literal demons.

This is a really fun LGBTQ+ graphic novel with rep that feels natural. I really want to visit Dead End one day. Even if there is a chance my soul will be sucked by a Dolly Parton knock off.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A classic of children’s horror fiction. This collection of short stories, urban legends and poems has been haunting children since it was first published in 1981. My eldest sister had copies of all three collections, and my sisters and I would always look at the haunting illustrations like they were taboo.

These stories are meant for very young children, so don’t expect to be terrified by them as an adult. But Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are still perfection. I recommend reading these aloud at story time, as they were meant to be told.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s books. While many of these stories were good at the time, I can’t say I recall any of them now. It was also difficult to tell what age group this was aiming for. Some were very dark, while others were silly enough for 9-year-olds. But there are so great names attached, and well worth seeking out if you love an old-school spook tale.

True crime:

Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

Deep down, many true crime fans think they have what it takes to solve an unsolved mystery. Billy Jensen has proved that you can.

Jensen takes readers through his career from a small-time reporter at the New York Times to piecing together evidence with Michelle McNamara to his innovative way of using social media to solve crimes. It’s a fascinating and quick read. And if you’re really interested, he also provides a guide on how to solve mysteries yourself on the internet.

Green River, Running Red: the Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule

My first-ever book from the master of true crime herself, Ann Rule.

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about the Green River Killer before going into this book. As far as serial killers go, he lacks “pizzazz”. And as Rule points out, it’s because he largely targeted sex workers – making his victims nearly invisible outside of those who loved them or were working to solve the case.

Rule gives a lot of the spotlight to Gary Ridgway’s 49 victims and beyond. She clearly is passionate about the case, but she does sometimes get a bit redundant in the way that she tells the stories of the victims. I did enjoy this one, even if it did feel dated already. And will gladly pick up more of the master’s work.

Wicked Wednesday: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

True crime fascinates people. We love it. It’s the reason why we’ve been obsessed with the likes of Ann Rule, Unsolved Mysteries and The Staircase for decades.

My recent not-so-lockdown lockdown obsession has been the My Favorite Murder podcast by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. The only way you haven’t heard about this podcast is if you’ve been living under a rock. For me, I’m so late to the game because I never really got into podcasts in general. Now I’ve got years of content to catch up on.

One of my favourite aspects of the show is the hometown murders where viewers send in their local stories. A story that caught my attention was a series of murders called the Moonlight Murders that took place in Texarkana in the 1940s.

And low-and-behold, I was absolutely chuffed to learn that the pseudo-documentary The Town That Dreaded Sundown was based on these murders. It was a movie I’d been putting off watching for ages, and it finally felt like the right time to watch.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is done in the same style as director Charles B Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek. There’s narration throughout the story that leads views throughout the scenes of destruction.

In the year 1946, the sleepy town of Texarkana is hit by a series of brutal murders. The murderer is a man donning a pillowcase on his head (think Jason’s mask in Part II) who likes to target young couples at lovers’ lane.

The case quickly becomes too big for the small town’s police force and a Texas ranger is brought in to help solve the murder.

The murders are all pretty monotonous until we get to a wonderfully bizarre and out-of-place scene where the killer wields a trombone/knife device! It’s completely out of left-field. But I suppose, if you’re going to be historically inaccurate your motto really ought to be, “Go big or go home!”

The real murders were never solved, and there isn’t much resolution here either. It’s certainly an interesting adaption of a true-crime story. Like The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Town That Dreaded Sundown tries to strike a balance between horror and slapstick comedy.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work very well here. Thankfully Vern Stierman’s narration helps pull the story back into its drama. I think The Legend of Boggy Creek worked better simply because I find mythical animals sillier than real serial killers. Also, there’s no banging tune in this one! That being said, I really do love the faux-documentary style that Pierce used.

Apparently, the film was remade in 2014 with loads of my favourite names attached: Jason Blum,
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Ryan Murphy. The trombone is reported to have made an appearance. I’d certainly be willing to give it a try because, at this point, the true story of the Moonlight Murders seemed to have surpassed facts and into the realm of fantasy.