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October 17, 2021

3 Books Perfect for Halloween

by MK French

With Halloween just around the corner and the crisp air, it is the perfect time to add some chills and thrills to your reading list. The first two books featured are anthologies which are great to throw in your bag to read at lunch or in the carpool line. The second anthology is a collection of ghost stories so you might want to save that one for Halloween weekend. The final book today is a full-length, dark fantasy that is fantastic.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Daggers Drawn edited by Maxim Jakubowski

Daggers Drawn
September 2021; Titan Books; 978-1789097986
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); crime fiction

The Crime Writers Association hosts its Daggers Awards, awarding the best crime short stories. In this collection of nineteen award-winning stories, we meet drug dealers, forgers, detectives, and the hapless people caught up in traps they couldn’t imagine. 

We open with “Swiftwing 98,” where Inspector Lestrade is using a prediction program to prevent crime with his new Detective Sergeant; this isn’t the Lestrade from Holmes stories but his descendant, and there is a longstanding enmity that takes a decidedly deadly turn. Holmes figures again in another story, but I was more drawn to the stories that were original and didn’t rely on knowing the Holmes canon.

Jeffery Deaver’s “The Weekender” hit just right, with twists until the very last page of the story that you don’t see coming. 

I really enjoyed “The Bookbinder’s Apprentice,” which doesn’t seem like much of a crime story until you reach the very end of it. 

“Homework” was another twisting tale, with a student’s assignment outlining everything in a meandering tone until it all comes together at the very end. 

Denise Mina’s “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit” will draw chills to any parent that has a child that is out of control despite all their best intentions and all the help they can get. 

The final story, Lauren Henderson’s “#MeToo” is also chilling in a different way; the casting couch and the way that women are treated in major industries is appalling, and here it’s twisted and used to deliberate effect.

While these are short stories, that doesn’t mean that this book is a quick read. I found myself going back in each story, looking for the details that serve as clues that I missed. Sometimes there are none, it’s the menacing air before the proverbial shoe drops. Sometimes it’s figuring out the motivation behind the crime. We don’t always get one, but that doesn’t mean I won’t sit there for a while trying to figure out what happened. They’re chilling and crafty, and full of devious characters. Not all of the victims are innocent, and the effects of each story will linger long after you close the volume.

Buy Daggers Drawn at Amazon 

The Haunting Season: Eight Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights

The Haunting Season
October 2021; Pegasus Crime; 978-1643137971
ebook, print (336 pages); ghost fiction

In the grand tradition of ghost stories told in winter, these eight authors contributed stories with a decidedly supernatural bent. 

We open with Bridget Collins’ “A Study in Black And White,” where a mean chess enthusiast comes across a black and white house with topiary shaped like chess pieces. It’s an older house, one that the locals generally shun, and the menace of the place is decidedly not human. Some of the horror is of the human kind after all: a paleontologist willing to do anything for fame, or women at the mercy of misogyny.  Imogen Hermes Gowar has a father insisting that his daughter return to her abusive husband in “Thwaite’s Tenant,” and a woman is alone in the postpartum period when she’s haunted in Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s “Confinement.” Even those that might have a “good” reason behind their actions, such as the photographer in Jess Kidd’s “Lily Wilt,” doesn’t mean that there is a happy ending in store for them. Haunted objects and a memory stealing village also round out the collection.

These stories all take place in the English countryside, really adding to the old world feel of manor houses and ghosts. The descriptions of the lands are lovely and make me feel like I’m there and experiencing the ghostly manifestations as they are. Not all of the ghosts are malevolent, and a lot of the connections with the ghosts make the stories so compelling. The locations are atmospheric, and some are delightfully creepy and full of dread. These tales are great late-night reading if you love old English ghosts, with the creeping sense of something going horribly wrong.

Buy The Haunting Season at Amazon

City of Iron and Dust by J. P. Oakes

City of Iron and Dust
July 2021; Titan Books; 978-1789097108
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); dark fantasy

In this world that mixes things we know with the fantastical, the Iron City is a walled sprawl ruled by five goblin houses after a war where the fae were decimated and debased. Goblins jockey for power and keep the fae under their collective thumbs, and the poor are churning with frustration and pent-up rage. Dust is an addictive drug that can give magic to its user while intoxicated, and on one night, a large brick has arrived within the Iron City. Different factions are in play, and when morning comes, Iron City will be changed.

Jag, the dilettante daughter of one goblin house, is disaffected and done with being an oppressor. Her half-fae half-sister Sil had been tortured and abused into being her companion and defender, and only knows how to fight for House Red Cap. House Spriggan has its own squabbles between its former leader Granny Spregg and her children, and Granny Sprigg won’t take her overthrown status in stride. Knull is a petty drug dealer that found the large package of Dust, Edwyll is his artist brother, and Skart is part of the fae revolution and something more. Bee is part of that revolution, trying to be democratic about it, and at the start of the evening realizes that “Revolution is a violent act. It is an upheaval of norms. It shakes the world and forces it into a new pattern.” (p. 159)

The book weaves through these different points of view, all moving through this eventful night. We see the start of the revolution, the relationships between different revolutionaries, Edwyll’s artistic ideals and his fragile sense of self, and Knull’s pessimistic view of life as one of the oppressed in a city that gives no mercy. The POV’s shift, each sharp and giving a different view of the world they live in. Even the goblins are affected by the setup; those in power jockey to stay there, and families are nothing in the face of power and prestige. The illusion of it can be enough to push through plans,  twisting those that others have. The fear and hopelessness that permeates the city is a palpable thing, hope fragile and easily disrupted with guns and swords and dead bodies piled in the streets.

I was sucked right in from the beginning of this novel; the bar fight in the beginning shows us who Sil is, and how merciless the book will be. It pulls no punches with the horrors that can happen in a chaotic ruin, the devastation left in its wake for the ordinary people left behind. This is a fascinating read, full of twists and turns along the way. When we get to the end, there are still questions left unanswered for the future, but the future is a changed thing and will no doubt have more adventures for the survivors.

Buy City of Iron and Dust at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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