September 20, 2003
The Hour Before Dark by Douglas Clegg

The Hour Before Dark by Douglas Clegg: a suspenseful, genuinely creepy horror novel that has to be one of the best in the genre that I’ve read in years.

At the very beginning of the novel, Gordie Raglan is brutally murdered in the smokehouse that sits on Hawthorne, the property he owns on Burnley Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts. The murder is so savage and strange that no one - police, forensics experts, or even the media - can begin to figure out what has happened.

Nemo, the oldest of Gordie’s kids, is called home by Brooke, his sister who was at Hawthone at the time, and Bruno, his brother. Brooke, understandably, is acting odd, but Bruno and Nemo begin to wonder if maybe she has become completely unhinged by their father’s slaughter.

Complicating everything, is memories that Nemo has of playing The Dark Game with his brother and sister in the same smokehouse where their father was murdered. One must never play The Dark Game after night has fallen, but the three of them did just that once. Nemo has to try and put the pieces that is slowly surfacing of his and his sibling’s lives to determine who really is the murder and what secrets have been buried long enough.

The book had me wondering about the outcome for almost its entire length. I figured out one important plot twist (as I think most people will), but it still didn’t lessen the impact of the Raglan family truth or of the novel itself.

Very well written, highly enjoyable, and even reminiscent of Stephen King’s earlier works. Recommended for those that love their scares with more psychological nuances than straight out gore.

Click here if you’re looking for a photo printer.

September 19, 2003
Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore

Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore: the first United States publication of Dunmore, winner of the Orange Prize (for debuting women novelists), that deals with the hidden secrets that can tear a family apart.

Nina has come to spend time with her sister Isabel after the birth of Isabels first child, Anthony, is much more difficult than expected. In the isolated cottage where Isabel lives is Edward (one of Isabels friends), Susan (the nanny), and Ricard, Isabels husband whos usually away on business trips.

Its almost difficult to describe what this book is really about without giving away the major plot details. Suffice to say, the heart of the novel is the relationship between Isabel and Nina and what is true and what is simply manipulated in the events that entwine them.

I wish now that I had gone back and read both the beginning and the ending before sending it to the person who was to read it after me. I would like to take them both in again and see if my conclusions and thoughts were the same.

Ultimately, its a very quick read and Dunmores voice is both strong and mesmerizing. I enjoyed the novel and would like to read other things by her in the future.

September 16, 2003
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: exquisitely written first novel that crosses so many genres that it is almost impossible to categorize.

Most novels do not start out with telling you both who has been murdered (Bunny Corcoran) and who has murdered him (Richard, Henry, Francis, Charles, and Camilla) since usually the point of a novel containing a murder is to figure out who did it. However, in the case of this novel, it only made me want to know even more why Bunny was turned on by his friends - what could motivate such a betrayal?

The novel is set is a small, very exclusive Vermont college. Richard, a freshman from California who studied ancient Greek, is enamored with the five elite Greek students taught by a professor, Julian, who refuses to take more than a handful of pupils into his class. Most of the novel focuses on Richard’s increasing interaction and the inevitable murder that it leads to.

While I wouldn’t call this novel slow, it definitely is not a quick read, but I think I liked it more for its slower, more stately pace. It’s a fairly large book (just over 500 pages), but I never did feel that it was too long or needed to speed up even throughout the first two hundred pages or so it’s impossible for one to imagine how things are ever going to end up with a murder.

I enjoyed the book greatly and while I’m not sure it’s for everyone, I would recommend reading it and seeing why Bunny’s death was an eventuality that was almost impossible for the group to avoid.