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The lines between mystery and horror have always been a bit thin; think of the fiendish The Hound of the Baskervilles or the elusive The Woman in White. A selection of classics for the season should have bits of everything so here’s a personal list to get you started.
The Grande Dame was at her peak when she penned the terrific classic cozy Hallowe’en Party. A group of the usual Christie characters (squire, ingenue, matron, etc.) are gathered in a country house for a Halloween party. Among the guests is the famous novelist Ariadne Oliver and, during the party a teenaged girl claims to have witnessed a murder but at the time she didn’t realize it was murder. At party’s end, the child is dead, drowned in the tub used for apple bobbing. Ariadne summons Hercule Poirot to solve the case and, with all the usual red herrings and unobvious suspects, he does. Great puzzle and great fun.
Still, to my mind, The Shining is the master’s finest work. The setting is a huge empty Colorado hotel, in winter, with a family of three as caretakers. The boy has the Shining, giving him the ability to see ghosts and as the story moves the family unravels. Brilliant writing and incredible suspense. A more modern touch comes from King’s son, Joe Hill, in his haunted car (or is it) novel NOS4A2.
Davies is Canada’s own genuine aficionado of Halloween. If you doubt it, just Google his delightful essay in The New York Times on the history of the day. Then read High Spirits, his truly creepy collection of ghost stories. He also set Leaven Of Malice, one of his most memorable novels, during Halloween.
We cannot possibly ignore Jackson’s work, including The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She rivals King at creating tension from old houses and mysterious actions but for real Halloween gore, I’ll take A Rose For Emily, by William Faulkner, a story that gives me nightmares every time I read it.
Stephen Graham Jones
Indigenous storytelling often has mystery and the supernatural as elements and Stephen Graham Jones, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana, has incorporated them into narratives that are funny, smart and socially conscious and, at the same time, gorgeously readable. He’s written two dozen books, including the scalding Growing Up Dead in Texas. The most recent two, The Only Good Indians and My Heart Is a Chainsaw, are terrific, scary books that also have a message for All Souls’ Day, Halloween’s Christian carryover.
Finally, the story I read and re-read for my own Halloween creepy chills: The Monkey’s Paw, by W.W. Jacobs. This classic begins with a British officer recently returned from India. He shows friends a mummified small hand, a monkey’s paw. The legend is that it will grant three wishes to anyone who asks, but not without a price. He warns his friends, but they still take the paw and set the magic in motion. What follows is brilliant writing. It was first published in 1902 and still scares the bejesus out of readers today.
As for me, I’ll re-read The Monkey’s Paw and then binge on my favourite Halloween movies: The Sixth Sense, The Turn of the Screw and Practical Magic.
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