This gorgeous, full-color omnibus collects six issues of SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, hokey thrillers in the inimitable EC style. Each tale comes with a twist ending that might have been original and startling in the 1950s but is now more likely to elicit embarrassed giggles and eye rolls than shivers. Most of the twists come in the form of karmic comeuppance: A bear hunter with a bear skin rug in his cabin is killed by a bear and turned into a human skin rug — Noooooooo! Some twists, oddly, require no punishable transgression on the part of the characters and seem to come out of the blue just to be mean: A man accidentally contacts a beautiful alien woman on his monitor screen, over time they talk and fall in love, she finally crosses the galaxy to be with him on Earth, and it turns out she’s actually 200 feet tall — Noooooooo! Of more interest are the morality plays that appear in each issue, EC-style, twist-ending examinations of thorny societal topics like police brutality, violent nationalism, and racial and religious bigotry. In one, an anti-Semite and his friends harass, beat up, and ultimately kill a Jewish couple who move into his neighborhood, only to discover he himself is adopted and actually Jewish, at which point his friends turn on him and beat him just like they did to the couple — Noooooooo! The earnest hokeyness is part of the charm of revisiting these old comics, of course, and fans of the twist-in-the-tale style of suspense and horror will get a kick out of this collection. The introduction by Steven Spielberg, who grew up as a nerdy kid who loved the escapism of reading EC comics, is quite touching.
This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is S.J.I. Holliday, whose first two novels in the Banktoun Trilogy, Black Wood and Willow Walk, were both just released in the U.S. Here’s the publisher’s description of Black Wood:
Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for S.J.I. Holliday:
I was mulling over what to write for this blog, and whether to tell you about my latest book (Willow Walk), or the first one in the trilogy (Black Wood) — both of which have only recently been made available in the US. I thought — what do readers of this blog really want to hear about? It became immediately obvious… You want to hear about that time that the guy who was fixing my roof told me there was a ghost in my house, right?
Picture the scene — I’m writing Black Wood — my first novel set in the fictional claustrophobic Scottish town of Banktoun. It’s a psychological thriller, with some police procedural in there and a hint of the supernatural — they sort that leaves you wondering if it’s real or just in your head (my favourite kind). Anyway, I’m in my very old house (built c1900), which we are still in the process of fixing up. It’s been months of awful work with builders and all sorts of dodgy tradesmen (I could tell you a few horror stories about that) — and I am finally ensconced in my fantastic little room, lined with books shelves, a comfy couch, a real old fire. I’m writing about this old creepy cottage — Black Wood Cottage — where my main character, Jo, has returned to after many years. It’s in a state of semi-abandonment, with creaky floorboards, whistling water pipes and doors that have a habit of slamming shut. I’m listening to one of my favourite CDs (yes, I’m in my 40s, I still like CDs… and vinyl, but that’s another story) — it’s called “Dark Side of the 80s” and it’s all The Cure and Sisters of Mercy and Echo and The Bunnymen (it’s the best CD ever — you should buy it). I’ve just thoroughly creeped myself out with a whispering ghost type part, when there’s a knock on the door…
“Hi, I’m just back round to get the first instalment of the cash so I can buy the felt for the roof.” Smile. “How’s your daughter today?”
“Oh…” *confused face* “I don’t have a daughter.”
“Sorry, my mistake. Was she a friend’s little one then? The girl who was here yesterday?”
“Yesterday?” *racks brains for rational explanation* “Oh — next door had their grandkids round. They were making a bit of a racket in the garden…”
*Roof man slowly backs away from the door, points at a space next to the dining room table* “No… she was sitting on the floor. She was… right there.”
ACTUAL SHIVER DOWN SPINE.
“Um, OK.” *trying not to panic* “Are you sure? I mean… there definitely wasn’t a little girl here yesterday…”
*With wavering voice* “I’m telling you. She was there. Next to the table. Just doing some colouring.” *Pause* “Look, I have to go now. I’ll be back to finish the job in a few days.”
*Rising panic* “Wait… WAIT!”
Oh, he’s gone…
So now I’m in the house on my own. Well, at least I thought I was. I decide the best way to deal with this is to put it on Facebook (obviously). “This weird thing just happened… the roofer reckons we have a ghost. LOL” Within seconds, I get a private message from a friend who came to a recent barbecue at our house: “Was it a little girl? In your dining room? Don’t worry, she’s happy.”
You can take what you want from like. The roofer did come back, by the way. He was still pretty shaken up. He said he’d discussed it with his wife, and she’d told him he probably sees ghosts all the time, what with all the houses he visits, he just hadn’t realised before. VERY reassuring! We went down to the church in town that had a gift shop and purchased a little angel ornament. I put it on the mantelpiece and left it there. It made us feel better, and I can’t say I ever saw anything… but neither of us walked through that room with the lights off again.
We live somewhere else now. A new place. No way we’ll have any ghosts here, I thought. Until another friend asked what the land was used for before they flattened it and built these new flats. I looked it up… a Victorian school.
S.J.I. Holliday grew up in a small town near Edinburgh, Scotland. She spent many years working in her family’s newsagent and pub before going off to study microbiology and statistics at university. She has worked as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry for over sixteen years, but it was on a six-month round-the- world-trip that she took with her husband ten years ago that she rediscovered her passion for writing. Her first novel, Black Wood, was published in 2015 and her second, Willow Walk, is out now. The third in the trilogy, The Damselfly, will follow in early 2017.
Heuler’s collection gathers fifteen prime examples of her hallmark surrealist stories. Each one takes a recognizable character in a recognizable setting but follows the situation through to an absurd, dreamlike extreme. There’s a lot of sly humor to be found in these stories — a woman buys a fish at the supermarket only to discover it’s still alive and can grant her three wishes; an officer worker notices she’s gone bald and that a colleague who’s after her job has come to work wearing her hair; a vegetarian succeeds in bringing supermarket meat back to life, Frankenstein-style — but there’s a darker side to them, too, one that often borders on the horrific. My favorite of the bunch, “Thick Water,” is a remarkably sinister tale of suspicion and paranoia among human explorers on an alien world, in which all of the explorers but one are transforming. It’s an extraordinary piece of work, but then so are all the stories collected here. THE INNER CITY is a dark and delightful treat for anyone who likes their fiction engagingly weird and deeply human.
It’s short notice, but I’m reading this Sunday with Karen Heuler! Here’s the official release:
Night Time Logic brings a Mid Summer Night’s Darkness to KGB Bar
Karen Heuler and Nicholas Kaufmann join Night Time Logic for a Sunday night reading.
Sunday, August 21 at 7 PM
85 E 4th St (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) in New York City
About the Readers
Karen Heuler’s stories have appeared in over 90 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Alaska Quarterly Review to Clarkesworld to Weird Tales, as well as a number of Best Of anthologies. She has published four novels and two story collections with university and small presses, and her last collection was chosen for Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013 list. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award and the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction. In October, Aqueduct Press will be publishing her next collection, Other Places, which follows women facing strange circumstances on this world and others.
Nicholas Kaufmann is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated, Thriller Award-nominated, and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author of General Slocum’s Gold, Chasing the Dragon, Dying is My Business, and Die and Stay Dead. In addition to his own original work, he has also written for such properties as Zombies Vs. Robots and The Rocketeer. His new novel, In the Shadow of the Axe, is due out soon. He and his wife live in Brooklyn, NY.
About Night Time Logic
Night Time Logic is an occasional reading series showcasing exceptional fiction of all kinds hosted by Daniel Braum, author of The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales. Past guests have included Angela Slatter, Matthew Kressel, and Victor LaValle. More about the series can be found here.
And here’s the Facebook event page, if you’re into that kind of thing.