I'm going to cover two books in this post. They're the first two books of a series and I read them a few weeks apart at the end of last year. (Yes, I'm still working on reviews from last year. Yes, I am annoyed with myself.)
The first book is Fran Krause's Deep Dark Fears which is an adult graphic novel. The majority of the content is gleaned from submissions received by the author on his website although a few are from his wife and himself. As the title suggests, this is a collection of fears harbored by people and then put into a comic format. (The illustrations are really great by the way.) And while these are legitimate fears that people have they're not all totally scary. Some of them are so out there that they're humorous...although to the person who submitted it I guess it's not funny at all. From the content, it seems that the majority of people developed these fears/phobias when they were still children from adult family members who told them horrifying things. Note to adults: Please think about what you're telling your kids because you never know what they'll hold onto and how they'll twist it in their minds.
|An example of the 'fears' illustrated inside. [Source: Bored Panda]|
The second in the series is called The Creeps and it continues the thread of bringing to life some of the most bizarre fears you can (or maybe can't) imagine. I have to say that one of them freaked me out so much that I had to put the book down for a while. (It was about AI.) I also learned that something I had thought was universally known is not in fact known to many people outside of the Southern United States. When you or someone you know has a sudden shiver have you ever explained it by saying, "Someone just walked over my grave."? Now imagine if you had never heard that and then someone said it to you in an offhand manner. Would that totally freak you out? A lot of the things that people are scared of seemed quite niche and silly while others were super dark and gory. It's a really great mixture.
|See how creepy this is to the unfamiliar? [Source: Bookspoils]|
Both books are really quick reads that can be devoured in a single afternoon (or train ride). I especially liked that they were presented in the form of a graphic novel instead of in short story format. Both books combined were a 10/10 if you're into creepy dark humor.
What's Up Next: Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: 20 Chilling Tales from the Wilderness by Hal Johnson
What I'm Currently (Re)Reading: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
This dark and twisted tale comes with a warning in the blurb, and it is definitely necessary. In most cases, I would've preferred a longer story for development, but the author does an excellent job of conveying the horrors inflicted on Rock and Sophia and the emotional turmoil of the story. It is an extremely disturbing tale and I was riveted from the very first page. As the story progressed and got darker and more twisted, I absolutely had to know how it would all play out. As tragic as much of this one is, I found myself doubting any romance would come to fruition, but Lucy Wild does dark romance like few others, and pulled it off masterfully.
As dark as the subject matter was, I enjoyed reading this book immensely. The plot was complex, the main characters fully developed, the writing excellent. What's not to like?
Disclosure: I obtained a used copy of this book from my local Friends of the Library book sale. I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter. I am an author.
Though The Babes in the Wood is the ninth installment in the Chief Inspector Wexford series, it easily stands alone without the previous books. I had no trouble grasping the basic background for any of the ongoing personal stories woven through the book.
The case involves three missing persons who are initially presumed dead: 32-year-old Joanna Troy and the two teenagers she was "babysitting" for a weekend while their parents were in Paris, 15-year-old Giles Dade and his 13-year-old sister Sophie. Also missing is Joanna Troy's blue VW Golf. The three people disappear on a weekend of torrential rain and flooding in late November. No trace of them is found until Christmas Day, when the first body is discovered.
I had figured out a major part of the mystery almost from the beginning.
Giles and Sophie were missing but not dead; Giles had driven the VW to dispose of Joanna Troy's body. Much was made of the fact that he turned 16 a few days after the disappearance, and that's an age when driving becomes a rite of passage.
That Joanna Troy is dead is evidenced by the lost tooth crown. Had she been alive, she would have had to get it fixed; if she had been conscious when she left the house, she would have taken it with her.
The how and the why and the identity of the killer remained the mystery, and that was sufficiently intriguing to keep me reading into the small hours of the night.
I save my five-star ratings for those books I think are truly exceptional, and while The Babes in the Wood was very good, it had a couple of elements that almost took it down to a 3.5-star rating.
The first was that there were almost no likeable characters other than Wexford himself, his family members, and some of his fellow detectives. Roger and Katrina Dade, parents of the missing children, were revolting. Even when Roger was cleared of a particularly nasty suspicion, he remained revolting, with no redeeming qualities. Katrina was similarly unsympathetic. Katrina's mother, Mrs. Bruce, was almost normal, but too minor a character to make up for all the others. Joanna Troy's father and stepmother weren't terrible people, but neither were they sympathetic. The Buxtons, the Wrights, Rick Mitchell, none of them had any redeeming qualities that made me hope they weren't the killer; any of them would do.
The second was that Rendell withholds certain information from the reader until the very end. If I remember correctly from my high school days of reading Ellery Queen mysteries, all the clues were subtly given throughout the story, so the diligent reader could piece everything together. It's not until the last few pages that Wexford reveals to his partner Mike Burden what he has learned after the case has been solved, details the reader has no way of even guessing from the text.
The third was the uneasiness I felt throughout the reading that a subtle but pervasive misogyny underlay the treatment of the female characters. Almost all of them are weak, venal, deceptive, manipulative, even predatory. Wexford's wife, Dora, is the only one with any substance, and even she seems slightly oblivious to what's going on with their daughter Sylvia. To be honest, most of the male characters are just as bad, but at least some of them are given small traits or moments of humanity that are almost completely denied the female characters.
Sylvia and the other women who suffer abuse are subtly blamed for what happens to them. Joanna Troy is painted as a monster who deserved her fate. Sharonne is the grasping, greedy beauty without a soul. Peter Buxton, for all his weaknesses, does eventually do the right thing about his discovery. Rick Mitchell likewise insists that a crime must be reported to the authorities. Even Giles knows that what Joanna is doing is wrong and she must be stopped but not to the point of murder; Sophie, though she is much younger, has no such scruples, and perhaps that's because she's female?
There is one moment when Detective Karen Malahyde attempts to challenge the overt misogyny of a male character being interviewed in connection with the case, but Wexford silences her. The issue isn't brought up again to be resolved and it left me feeling uncomfortable.
Likewise, Sylvia's situation -- the contradiction of her being a social worker dealing with abused women and being abused herself -- seemed to get short shrift.
But these may be issues that are only tangential to a single book in the series and get better treatment in the series as a whole.
Overall, however, the book was a satisfying read and I would be willing to read more should bargains come my way!