I realize December is supposed to be a month of comfort and joy, but for whatever reason, my reading has taken a seriously creepy turn. Maybe it’s because I’m reading mostly backlist books, meaning I go to the library and whatever catches my eye I borrow. So, thrillers have the best covers? Who knows. Here are two novels that left me wonderfully freaked out and buried in books I couldn’t stop reading.
*Even better: it’s Friday the 13th!
Is there anything creepier than thrillers involving children and childhood? I don’t think so. There’s the natural vulnerability of children, but smart authors also play on the best part of childhood as well: the Imagination. Think of Stephen King with It and The Shining. In Alex North’s The Whisper Man there is Jake, a 6-year-old boy whose mother died a year ago, and his caring, but overwhelmed father. Jake is the kind of creative, sweet child who gets bullied and has an imaginary friend. His is a little girl who appears and talks to him when he’s scared.
Jake and his father have moved to a new town that, unknown to them, has an unsettling history—20 years ago a man murdered 5 boys before being caught and sent to prison. He is known as the Whisper Man, because he would stalk the children, whispering to them outside their bedroom windows. Now another boy is missing. The lead detective from the original case visits the killer in prison, in the hopes of trying to connect the two series of crimes.
Suffice it to say, there’s plenty going on in The Whisper Man. There is Jake’s father who is struggling to understand and help his son. There is the house they move into which seems to have a bad reputation in their village. There’s backstory on the detective. Author Alex North melds the normal difficulties of childhood with a paranormal element (but is it real?) with family relationships. It all comes together with a steady level of tension that kept me reading. Oh, and 5 stars to North for the novel’s final sentence. It was a perfect mic drop ending.
I don’t read a lot of historical thrillers. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never even thought of it as a genre, but The Doll Factory book cover is so fabulous, with its combination of fragility and danger, that I had to see what was inside. Set in the 1850s during the Great Exhibition in London it’s a story about three people. Iris is a young woman who breaks away from a life of servitude in a doll-making emporium to become an artist’s model because she loves to paint. Silas owns a shop of curiosities, largely featuring taxidermy. Albie is a young boy who connects the two. He sews skirts for the dolls and finds dead animals for Silas. When Silas sees Iris, he becomes immediately infatuated with her.
Author Elizabeth Macneal chooses well by setting The Doll Factory in such an exciting time and place. The novel’s suspense plays out against the bigger backdrop of the norms of British society that define Iris, Silas, and Albie’s lives and the new movements beginning in art and the backlash they caused. The excitement generated by the exhibition and its impact on the city reminded me of Erik Larsen’s book, The Devil in the White City. It also played into the sense that because of enormous economic disparities evil could go unnoticed.
This really is a novel about obsession and Macneal draws it out perfectly. She infuses the London Iris, Silas, and Albie inhabit with a sense of gloom and grime that allows the imagination to run wild. Even if The Doll Factory’s conclusion is not unexpected it didn’t detract from the story as a whole. I was thoroughly drawn in.
Read anything creepy this month?!
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