Halloween may be over, but that doesn’t mean November isn’t dark enough all on its own. Is there something inherently spooky about the autumn that lends itself to a celebration of the darker mysteries around us?
With the waning of the year, we’re surrounded by reminders of mortality, from the crunch of leaves underfoot to the snap of cold in the air in the morning to the faint whispers of smoke in the distance. And along with those reminders, the early evenings and the lengthening shadows hint at secrets beyond the darkness, beyond the divide between life and death ... Though perhaps that’s just me.
The daring independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers column have taken a peek into the darkness and come up with a great selection of titles for November, some fiction and a couple of local, true-to-life collections that will chill you to the bone and give you the perfect excuse to lock the door and pretend you’re not home. You’re not hiding, you’re reading.
The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: The Haunting of Vancouver Island, by Shanon Sinn
It is the perfect time of year to brush up on your scary stories, and Shanon Sinn is here, with a compelling investigation into supernatural events and local lore on Vancouver Island in his new book, The Haunting of Vancouver Island. Whether you are a believer in the supernatural or just like a well-told creepy tale there is a wealth of fascinating legends here that stretch from tip to tip of Vancouver Island. Be prepared for the next time you need to tell a tale in the dark.
The Bookseller: Jenn Hubbs, Curiosity House Books (Creemore, Ontario)
The Pick: City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong
Surprisingly, my Halloween pick is not one of Armstrong’s many and varied supernatural books, but something a little more psychologically terrifying. Everybody has a secret, but what if yours was such that you suddenly needed to escape? Now imagine a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. That’s exactly what happens to Casey Duncan, homicide detective and long ago murderer, who, with her best friend, suddenly needs to get away fast without being found. The two travel to a mysterious town in the remote parts of the Yukon, where everyone is hiding something. Trouble doesn’t stay away, however, and soon Casey and the local sheriff have a homicide on their hands. What makes this series work for me is that it’s only one step away from most people’s reality: how many of us have thought, however fleetingly, about escaping from it all?
What makes this series work for me is that it’s only one step away from most people’s reality: how many of us have thought, however fleetingly, about escaping from it all?"
Armstrong’s gift for description and world building creates an eerie setting and some truly disturbing characters. There’s a murder to solve but the mysterious past of each of the residents adds extra complications for Duncan, and both she and the reader are never quite sure who to trust. While there is a hint of supernatural in the air, this book is more of a pure thriller with some atmospheric spookiness to keep you on edge right up until the last page.
The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)
The Pick: The Troop, by Nick Cutter
With Stephen King seemingly everywhere right now, it's a good time to branch out just a bit and tip a cap to some homegrown horror fiction.
We in Canada are very lucky to call Craig Davidson one of our own, because sure, the literary stuff is rock solid, but my preference, for now, runs to his nom de plume, Nick Cutter.
The Troop takes a Lord of the Flies premise and plunks a group of teenage boys on an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence. An education-themed camping trip turns into a deliciously atmospheric, measured, and sharply executed tale of what King called "old school horror at its best." A bioengineered nightmare—the result of a diet pill chemical trial gone very wrong—is skulking around the island and is possessed of stealth, speed, and a singularity of purpose due to an all-consuming hunger.
Nothing fancy, just a great edge of one's seat scare story.
Perfect for this time of year, perfect for the cottage, and pretty damn good most other times, too.
The Bookseller: Hanna Kaczerowska , Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)
The Pick: The White Angel by John MacLachlan Gray
A local mystery, set in opium-hazed, rainy Vancouver 1924. A noir historical dystopia, shot through with the militant politics of whiteness, circling around the politicized murder of a Scottish nanny, Janet Smith. Gray’s latest is a work of fiction based on a true-crime story that you will not want to put down. An excellent fall season read.
The Bookseller: Mary-Ann Yazedjian, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: Cold Case Vancouver: The City's Most Baffling Unsolved Murders, by Eve Lazarus
Cold Case Vancouver is an extensive and fascinating look into many of Vancouver's unsolved murders of the past 75 years. Fact is stranger than fiction and true stories are often the freakiest! From the story of the "Babes in the Woods"—the two boys found murdered in Stanley Park in 1953—to stories of people being taken from their homes and their bodies never found, this book will give you the chills...while also educating you on some of Vancouver's creepy past.